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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Spotlight On the Ice Rink

When One Boulder Plaza was being built, the developers wanted not only to create a new building structure, but to include a public amenity as well. Paul Eklund, a managing partner of One Boulder Plaza and owner of PN Eklund Interests, Inc., took the time to recreate for us the complicated process of designing, planning, and getting permission to build the Ice Rink. "I can't remember whose idea it was first to have an Ice Rink," he said, "but it made sense to us because of the success of the old rink, which was over by the Tea House." Richard Foy of CommArts came up with the oval design, reminiscent of an Italian piazza, which could easily double as both an Ice Rink and a community plaza.

However, the site was not big enough to accommodate the oval design. The road was initially a straight two-way with large sidewalks, and cut right through the middle of the planned rink's space. Jerry Lee, of Lee Real Estate Development LLC, went to Molly Winter at the DMC to propose a partnership. In return for license to use the City's land and to curve the road to accomodate the rink, One Boulder Plaza would stage seasonal events in the space all year-round. The City gave the go-ahead, and gained not only a community gathering place but the opportunity to further develop their long-range plan to connect the City Park on Arapahoe with the Downtown Mall. With the Farmer's Market, the Ice Rink, and other events extending from Walnut to Arapahoe on 13th, it was a natural way to bring the two public spaces together.

The next hurdle was, of course, how to generate ice! Happily, that particular dilemma was solved by the building that One Boulder Plaza was to replace. A large rooftop chiller/ac unit had been installed only two years before, and was going to be trashed along with the rest of the old building. They salvaged the unit and had it converted to work as an ice rink chiller. The next problem was where to place it, as these units are loud, generate a lot of heat, and are not particularly pleasant to look at. The solution? Put it in the parking garage! Not only is it out of the way, but it keeps the garage warm in the winter as well.

It's not only the cooperation between the City and One Boulder Plaza that brought Downtown an Ice Rink. "It's an expensive operation," Paul points out, "and it's funded partly through sponsorships." Sponsors are Downtown Boulder, Inc., Boulder Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Western Disposal, First National Bank of CO, Play it Again Sports, Mike's Camera, Rocky Mountain Theater for Kids, Tibet Carpet & Home, American National Bank, Daily Camera, and KBCO. The generosity of the sponsors and the dedication of the partners at One Boulder Plaza even goes so far as to donate parts of proceeds to Boulder Ice, a non-profit.

The value to downtown makes it worth the cost. Ashley Ortiz, the Business Manager of the Ice Rink, brought us up to date on the Ice Rink’s present and future:

DOWNTOWN BOULDER: What inspired you to get involved with the Ice Rink downtown?

ASHLEY ORTIZ: I have been involved in ice skating in the area for 21 years. I grew up skating in Boulder and Denver, training as a figure skater, and went on to teach skating at CU, and also played on the women’s hockey team. After college, my father (a local hockey player) and I started a nonprofit called Boulder Ice to put together plans for a year-round ice skating rink and community center at the undeveloped Valmont City Park site. Several years into this effort, the partners at One Boulder Plaza approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping them develop a business to offer ice skating each winter season in the plaza. I jumped on the opportunity, as it offered both a way to continue to raise awareness and support for Boulder Ice’s long-term efforts and a way to get Boulder skaters on the ice right away.

DB: How long has the Ice Rink been open?

ASHLEY: The Ice Rink is now in its third season and is growing tremendously each year. We had 8,500 skaters the first season, and close to 14,000 last year. So far, in the first few weeks of being open this year we have seen even more happy skaters coming to the rink than we expected.

DB: How do you get professional ice-skaters involved? Any famous ones?

ASHLEY: For our opening show, Light Up the Ice, which is held in conjunction with Downtown Boulder’s Switch on the Holidays event, I have worked with the Rocky Mountain Figure Skating Club to find skaters to perform. The show consists of 10 to 15 competitive skaters from the metro-Denver/Boulder area. We have been approached by a group that puts on ice shows with famous skating stars, and are looking into the possibility of bringing a show like that to The Ice Rink in future years, in addition to our annual Light up the Ice Show.

DB: What is the Ice Rink's most popular event?

ASHLEY: Light up the Ice, with the performers and discounted skating, is a very popular event that officially kicks off each skating season. We also have a great following for our once-a-month free skating and skate rental days which are sponsored by local businesses, and our monthly theme skates which include 2 for 1 admission, giveaways, decorations, games, and free photos by Mike’s Camera.

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