Group goes cold on city’s Parade Plaza skating rink
New London — New London Main Street is hanging up its ice skates and getting out of the winter sports business.
The organization, whose focus is to enhance economic development, has notified the city that it will not open its synthetic ice rink on the Parade Plaza this winter. It would have been its third season.
"It was a great effort and great idea, but it may not have been the right fit for our historic waterfront district,'' Annah Perch, the new executive director of Main Street, said Wednesday.
Main Street notified its members in its August newsletter that it would no longer manage the ice rink.
"Though it was a tough decision, it has been decided that New London Main Street is not in a position to operate The Rink next season,'' said a post on Main Street's website.
Main Street plans to work with the city either to sell the rink or possibly lease it out to help pay off the $116,000 it owes the city.
In 2011, Main Street bought the 45-foot-by-90-foot rink with a loan from the city, which was to be repaid over five years with rink revenues and sponsorship income.
During its first season, the rink drew about 11,000 skaters, according to Main Street officials, and about as many onlookers. A survey of downtown businesses said the rink had brought more foot traffic downtown during the usually quiet winter months, and Main Street broke even. But last year, attendance was down significantly, according to Renee Fournier, Main Street board president.
City Councilor Adam Sprecace, the council liaison to Main Street, said there were several factors that lead to the failed season, including a change in leadership at Main Street and a drop in corporate sponsors. The city also cut Main Street's funding in half, to about $40,000. There was little money to advertise the rink, he said.
"I thought it was worth a try. I supported it,'' Sprecace said, adding that Main Street and the council would work together to sell or rent the rink to get the city's money back.
"I think it was worth a shot,'' he said. "Given different circumstances, it could have flourished."
The council will discuss what to do with the rink at an Economic Development Committee meeting. No date for that meeting has been set.
The city purchased the portable rink from Ice Rink Engineer and Manufacturing for $47,860, and a wall to encircle the rink from Sports Resource Group for $27,732. Additional money was spent on a sales booth, skates and a music system.
Main Street received two federal Community Development Block Grants, a grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and private sponsorships to help operate the rink. The first year, various businesses also donated money to offer free skating lessons and skate rentals to youngsters.
New London Main Street had first proposed leasing a rink for $40,000 for one month as a way to liven up the downtown business district during the winter months. But after some city officials visited Greenport, Long Island, where the town operates an ice rink near its business district, the City Council supported the idea of buying a rink. It opted for a synthetic ice rink because it would require less maintenance.
During the summer months, the rink has been stored in various locations in the city.
Main Street is in the midst of reorganizing and reconsidering its mission, Perch said. It will have its annual Fall Food Stroll and probably will continue to host its Fish Tales, Tugs and Sails event next summer. But it also wants to support those who put on events.
"We're getting back to brass tacks,'' she said, adding that the group will focus more on enhancing economic development rather than hosting events.
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