VALPARAISO — Attendance figures have been skating upward at the William E. Urschel Pavilion in the downtown Central Park Plaza.
“It’s up, due to the good weather,” said Beth Bowker, manager on duty Wednesday. “It’s fun for the family and a nice, safe environment for kids.”
Daily attendance, Bowker said, has ranged from 250 to 1,100.
Crown Point resident Emily Reed helped boost those numbers, returning several times in the past few days.
“Friends invited me to come for New Year’s Eve, and I fell in love with the place,” Reed said. “It’s cool. It’s a huge area, the park ice is well-kept and the staff is always helpful.”
Lauren Chenoweth, 13, went with several classmates from Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso. She has skated at the downtown site several times over the previous two seasons.
“It gets us outside and active, even in winter, when most people are inside, watching TV,” Chenoweth said. “Plus the lights are amazing.”
Lights, DJ music, skating lessons and hockey are among the attractions at the 12,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion dedicated in 2015. Underneath its arched roof is an 80-foot by 120-foot skating area. Adjacent to the rink is the Indiana Beverage Activity Center for skate or locker rentals, concessions or just warming up.
Valparaiso Parks Superintendent John Seibert said Central Park Plaza — the campus comprising the ice rink pavilion, nearby Porter Health Amphitheater and a splash pad — has become a magnet as “part of the whole downtown experience. People shopping downtown are drawn to our park facilities, and our parks draw people to downtown.”
Another asset, Seibert said, has been staff training and preparation.
“We wanted to know how to manage crowds so people come back and are not frustrated,” he said, crediting Bowker, manager Dan McGuire and maintenance manager Steve Garlands for the success of the venue.
To keep the flow of people moving smoothly, Seibert said, no figures have been taken regarding guests' residency. Now, however, working with a student intern from Indiana University, the parks department is trying to determine how far the skaters travel to visit the rink.
Martin Wojasinski, a Michigan City resident, brought his family for the first time Wednesday.
“Michigan City was planning something like this, but this is really nice,” Wojasinski said. “It’s family-oriented. Everything is right here. There’s stuff to do for kids, instead of getting into trouble.”
Ezra Liston, 18, a Wheatfield resident and Purdue Northwest student, noted, “They keep the ice really nice. Also, there’s a steady flow of people, but not super-packed.”
In its first two seasons the ice rink drew 50,000 skaters. The rink grossed $400,000 in that time and netted $48,000 in profits. In total, said Seibert, the downtown complex, including Central Park Plaza and the rink, brought in $600,000 in revenue and naming rights with a net revenue of about $60,000 which will be put back into the complex for capital projects.
Working with community groups and nonprofits, Seibert reported, the park area hosts 150 events throughout the year.
In all, Seibert said, the downtown park campus draws 225,000 to 230,000 people each year.
Vicki Turek, of Valparaiso, watched as her three grandchildren took to the ice. Among them was Tessa Turek, 8, who commented, “I like to skate. Plus, we’re near grandma’s home.”
In 2016, the ice rink earned national recognition when the American Planning Association named the downtown Valparaiso park among the great public spaces in America, joining sites in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Noonan family of Valparaiso was making its first visit to the ice rink. Ted Noonan helped his son, Lincoln, 5, with his skates. When asked what he was looking forward to, Lincoln replied simply, “Skating.”