Jack Z. Smith Special Projects Reporter Fort Worth Business Press
An outdoor ice skating rink just north of downtown Fort Worth proved successful in its initial season and is expected to have a repeat run. “I think we’re a go,” said Keith Ashby, project manager for Conroe-based Ice Rink Events, operator of the facility developed with up-front funding support from the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA), which promotes activities along the river and its extensive trails system. The Fort Worth rink “went well for us,” and should “go even better” in a second year, Ashby said in a telephone interview with the Business Press. He declined to provide specific financial numbers. The rink, dubbed Panther Island Ice, was established at a site adjoining the Coyote Drive-In movie theater at 223 N.E. 4th St., in an 800-acre area on the near north side that is targeted for a dramatic urban revitalization as part of the $909.9 million Trinity Uptown flood control and economic development project. The redevelopment area also is called Panther Island.
Ashby said Ice Rink Events hopes to negotiate a new agreement with the TRVA, a unit of the Tarrant Regional Water District, for a second season in Fort Worth. “Terrific season” Shanna Cate, programming and development manager for the TRVA, told its board of directors in a recent meeting that the rink “had a terrific season…we made money on it…we learned that an outdoor ice skating rink will work in Fort Worth.” Cate, in a telephone interview Tuesday with the Business Press, said preliminary figures show that rink-related expenditures by the TRVA total approximately $125,000 and that TRVA revenues from skate admissions and corporate sponsorships exceed that amount. “Our goal was to cover expenses and ensure we’ve got a little cushion for going into next year,” she said. “We were very happy with Ice Rink Events,” Cate said. “We think they did a great job.” The TRVA hopes to negotiate a new agreement with the company for a second season, but if they are somehow unable to come to terms, “there are other operators out there,” she said.
Cate said the TRVA is probably going to make the rink bigger to accomodate more skaters, is considering employing a motorized tool to more quickly smoothen the ice and also wants “to do a better job of selling gift certificates and group events” for the rink. Cate said approximately 16,000 skaters used the rink during its operation in the holiday season from Nov. 22 through Jan. 5. She said the total number of rink visitors was estimated at about double that number, or 32,000, with non-skaters including “a lot of parents sitting and watching their kids.” The Coyote theater concession was open during the rink’s operating hours, selling food and drinks to attendees. The rink was successful despite suffering greatly reduced attendance on two weekends in December because of brutally cold weather and treacherous, icy roads, Cate said. “It was ironic that the ice shut down the ice-skating rink in Fort Worth,” she said. Ashby said the biggest challenge in operating a rink in Fort Worth is “the wind.” “There’s a lot of wind up there,” he said. “It whisks the warm air onto the rink and whisks the cold air away.” That can melt or soften the ice, but a wind break was built at the Fort Worth rink to reduce the impact, Ashby said. Cate said the rink attracted substantial numbers of visitors from outside Fort Worth, with some probably spending additional dollars on activities such as dining downtown or in the historic Stockyards area. In Texas, Ice Rink Events operates a popular outdoor rink at Discovery Green, a popular 12-acre urban park in downtown Houston. The company operated about 50 rinks in the U.S. and foreign countries last year, Ashby said.