City skaters glad to be back on ice

New outdoor rink opens for season in Fells Point

December 21, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

It looked for a time as if there would be no outdoor skating in downtown Baltimore this year - after the decade-old rink at Rash Field in Federal Hill was forced to shut down because its aging equipment just couldn't keep the ice cold enough anymore.

But yesterday, just in time for the holidays, the Baltimore Ice Rink at Harbor Point opened in Fells Point for its first Saturday skate, launching the inaugural weekend for a brand-new place to lace up and enjoy the city views and get some brisk exercise outside. Even Santa Claus donned a pair of skates.

"We're so excited it's open," said Jill Packo, owner of the nearby Green Turtle restaurant, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Kendal, and a bunch of her friends and cousins to the rink. "We'll be doing this often."

It almost didn't happen. When Rash Field closed, no spot emerged to take its place. But when Baltimore developer C. William Struever read in the newspaper that the city would have to spend a winter without outdoor skating, he knew he had to do something to change that.

He decided he had the perfect spot for a new rink: the 27-acre former chemical plant his company, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, is working to transform from a toxic polluter into waterfront offices, shops and restaurants.

"It was hard to imagine a great American city like Baltimore without an ice rink," he said. "The Rash Field rink was dying a slow death. It was like trying to skate on a snow cone. You've always got to ice skate outdoors. It's part of the spirit of the city to get outside and enjoy life and the weather."

Struever was as excited as any of the dozens of kids who showed up yesterday for what will be a weekly "Tykes on Ice" promotion.

The new rink seems almost lonely, plopped down on the former AlliedSignal property, which is being cleaned up. But the views of the city and the water are spectacular.

Struever put up the $300,000 needed to build the rink and its viewing platforms and warming tent. When the rink starts making money - which he doesn't expect until at least next year - he said any profits will go to the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.

In the long run, Struever said, the Harbor Point development will include a park. He dreams of constructing some sort of skating adventure as part of it - "the coolest ice rink anywhere" - that is much more exotic than skating around in a circle.

Ellen Hocheder of Mount Airy tried to stay warm yesterday as she watched her two grandchildren, 7-year-old Katie and 10-year-old Jesse, make their way around the ice. Jesse is a hockey player, and he was working to perfect his skills. Katie, on the other hand, was just trying to remain upright. She wasn't having much success, but she was having a lot of fun trying.

"You have things you can hold onto if you're not a good skater," she explained, as she held tight to the boards.

The rink will be open Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is an admission fee, parking fee and a fee for renting skates if needed. The rink will be open daily through Feb. 29.

Kendal Packo had a large group in tow in honor of her ninth birthday. Friday night, she was supposed to have her party at an indoor swimming pool, but the pool was closed, which left her disappointed - until her mom told her they could go skating instead.

"I think this is really awesome because everyone can get together outside and get fresh air instead of being inside," said 13-year-old cousin Jamie Golden of Timonium. "Inside I feel like I'm closed in. This is more interesting."

There was plenty of room to skate yesterday. But that may not last for long as word gets out.

"It's not crowded, which is nice," Ellen Hocheder said, looking around, "but I guess not everyone's found out about it yet."

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