The appeal of the heinously overpriced Rockefeller Centre Ice Rink [wiki] is not just to those who like to ice skate. It’s the experience and just being able to say you did it, like all those people you see in the movies falling in love amidst the twinkle of falling snowflakes. Little do some know, Vancouver used to have it’s own outdoor ice rink in the heart of downtown, just under Robson Street [wiki].
In 1979, Arthur Erickson [wiki] designed the city’s new courthouse and Robson Square [UBC], which would soon become home to Vancouver’s only outdoor ice rink (if you don’t count the one atop Grouse Mountain). It became a seasonal staple for tourists and locals alike. Open 10:00 am to 10:00 pm (minus skate rental facilities) Vancouverites could get a little taste of the Canadian winter-time activity, even in the rain. Despite its popularity, the rink flirted with closure for years.
[Coun. Tim] Stevenson said as an NDP MLA, he fought successfully to keep the rink open when the former NDP government decided to close it in 1999…
“The NDP had planned to do what the Liberals have done and chop it, but I managed to get cabinet to change its mind. It really is a very important rink-there are no other outdoor rinks and it is right in the heart of the city,” Stevenson said. “After we saved it, I started going there to check it out and it was well used by a variety of people and it was good for the businesses around there.” [VancouverCourier]
The rink finally closed indefinitely in 2004 due to budget constraints and it doesn’t look like it will be re-opening any time soon.
Kathleen Elliot, spokeswoman for B.C. Buildings Corporation, says besides the $50,000 cost to ice and operate the rink for three months, reopening the rink would require spending $250,000 to repipe the 21-year-old facility. She said the repiping is needed because the underground pipes are directly above the computer labs in UBC’s section of Robson Square. [VancouverCourier]
There is talk, however, that the rink could be a part of Olympic celebrations and brining the spirit of the games into the downtown core for 2010. This has not yet been officially proposed or announced but the idea has been floating around.
Until then, the space will be used for tango and square dancing [dancesportbc] on hot summer evenings and as a midday destination for those out on their lunch breaks.
It’s time to bring back the ice rink, especially since Vancouver’s started to abolish its “no fun city” reputation. Of course there are many more pressing issues that could use the government’s attention but if there are any funds allocated to recreation, tourism and getting people downtown to do something besides shop (for over-priced fuzzy boots or jewelery that comes in a neat little blue box…) well … this is one thing I’d support.
Update: I followed up on Metroblogging, the rink should be open by Winter 2008.
Update: Giant wooden umbrella to cover Robson Square? [The Vancouver Sun]
Update, November 2009: GE Ice Plaza at Robson Square is now open!