Plan to reopen outdoor ice rink melts

City agency that ran Harbor Point facility can't handle the additional work this year, leaving hockey clubs disappointed

November 10, 2005|By SARAH ABRUZZESE | SARAH ABRUZZESE,SUN REPORTER

For the first time in at least a dozen years, city ice skaters will be left without an outdoor rink along the waterfront this winter.

Two years after Baltimore officials opened a new rink near Fells Point - saving outdoor skating in the city after the closing of the original Rash Field Inner Harbor location - they say the Baltimore Ice Rink at Harbor Point won't be opening this season because there is no one to operate it.

That is bad news for skaters and groups like the Baltimore Youth Hockey Club, which held a clinic to expose inner-city youths to hockey there last year. The club's teams also use the rink.

"We are disappointed," said Donna Brust, the club's vice president. "We would love to see it reopened."

"I would say it is one of the highlights for the little kids who are learning to skate," said Ray Uroda, coordinator for the Baltimore Youth North Stars, a peewee division team in the Baltimore Youth Hockey Club.

"We did it more for the atmosphere," Uroda said. "They had the opportunity to skate outside in downtown Baltimore."

Uroda said players on the Baltimore Stars, a team of 15- to 18-year-olds that he coaches, enjoyed night games because with the bright lights of the rink, it felt "like it was the big show."

For a decade, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts helped provide outdoor skating at Rash Field in Federal Hill.

In 2003, when the Rash Field equipment was deemed too old, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. stepped in and offered to buy new equipment, and house the state-of-the-art regulation-size rink on its property at South Caroline, Thames and Block streets near Fells Point.

Harbor Point, the 27-acre peninsula that juts into the harbor, was once the location of a chemical plant that was a major polluter. The land underwent a $100 million cleanup.

The rink boasted views of the Baltimore skyline, a warming tent and on-site parking. But the responsibility of running the rink fell to the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which contracted with an outside vendor to handle day-to-day operations.

Although that vendor was able to return this year, said Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the city office, her office's staff cannot manage the overall operations and promotions for the rink this year.

The office is creating a committee to come up with other options for future winter seasons.

The closure isn't unprecedented, Baskerville said. The city was unable to come up with funds for an outdoor rink from 1991 until 1993.

The Harbor Point rink had been taken down each spring and put into storage, then put up in the winter by employees of Struever Bros. and the city.

"We were kind of hoping the city would step up and operate the rink like they did when it was in Rash Field," Brust said.

The communications director for Struever Bros., Bob Rubenkonig, said Harbor Point will eventually be developed, and the plans include a rink.

But, he said, until then, if a better place elsewhere in the city is found for the rink, it will be moved.

The company remains committed to ice skating in the city, said Struever's development director, Tonja Potter.

"It brought a lot of city families and kids the opportunity to play ice hockey."

City officials said they hope to bring back outdoor skating for the 2006-2007 winter season.

"I think it is an institution," Baskerville said. "To come back stronger, bigger and better than ever. Hopefully with the new operator, we can do that."

But with time running out, there is little chance of finding someone to run the rink and getting it open this year, she said.

Baskerville's advice for would-be skaters is to turn to Baltimore's three indoor rinks: the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena, the Patterson Park ice rink and the Northwest Ice Rink.

sarah.abruzzese@baltsun.com

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