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Williamsburg residents and visitors will have a new place to chill this winter.
Colonial Williamsburg received the City of Williamsburg’s approval to install an ice skating rink on Duke of Gloucester Street after City Council held a public hearing Thursday.
City Council voted 4-0-1 – with Vice Mayor Paul Freiling, a Colonial Williamsburg employee, abstaining – to issue a long-term special event license for a section of the public road between North Henry and Nassau streets.
“It’s imperative that Colonial Williamsburg initiate new and different initiatives and attractions to draw new guests and to interest past guests to return,” said Robert Underwood, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of operations.
Installation of the 70’-by-50’ rink – made of real, not synthetic, ice – will begin Nov. 9 and open to the public Nov. 15. The ice rink will close at the end of February, which is a change from the Feb. 14 date on the original application in order to accommodate a request from First Baptist Church to have the rink open as it works with Colonial Williamsburg to celebrate Black History Month.
Florida-based Magic USA Inc. will build, maintain and manage the ice rink.
While Colonial Williamsburg officials said they received comments, both negative and positive, from the community after WYDaily’s story on the possibility of an ice rink published Tuesday, only supporters spoke at Thursday’s public hearing.
Those who spoke at the council meeting included outspoken city resident John Whitley, Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance President Karen Riordan, Merchants Square Association President Cathy Pacheco and Williamsburg Hotel-Motel Association President Ron Kirkland.
“We feel that it would be a tremendous asset to our residents, our visitors and our local businesses,” said Pacheco, who also submitted a letter of support signed by several Merchants Square business owners.
The voting council members praised Colonial Williamsburg for offering another new initiative in an effort to attract more visitors to the city, citing the upcoming musket range as a recent example of creativity from the living history museum.
Councilman Scott Foster said he believed the ice skating rink fits in with the other activities hosted in the Merchants Square area throughout the year.
“I see an ice skating rink in this location only as a continuation of this area’s role as a community gathering place,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea, a good use of that space in a time when we’d all like more folks to be here.”
Councilman Douglas Pons mentioned the failed 2013 application to expand Colonial Williamsburg’s Rev City program for a 15-month trial period, which would have closed more of Duke of Gloucester Street for longer periods of time to the general public, to note its difference from the ice skating rink.
Pons and Foster voted against that proposal, arguing Colonial Williamsburg did not provide the proper metrics to support closing off the public roadway for extended periods of time. With Freiling also abstaining from that vote, the Rev City application failed 2-2.
“In the way that [the ice rink] might constrict people’s ability to navigate that public roadway, I think Colonial Williamsburg and its staff have worked hard to make sure folks can get up and down the street without any trouble,” Pons said.
Though the ice rink will take up most of the roadway on that block, the sidewalks would still be open to pedestrians.
Colonial Williamsburg officials said they worked hard to reach out to any and all affected parties in their planning for the ice rink.
Bruton Parish Church told the foundation it would be willing to endure any parking inconvenience the rink might cause this winter. With the help of Colonial Williamsburg, the annual Christmas Parade has been rerouted to end in Merchants Square and begin on the College of William & Mary’s campus instead of the other way around.
Colonial Williamsburg officials also worked with city staff and the Williamsburg Police Department about public safety concerns regarding large events in the downtown area, such as Grand Illumination. Pedestrians will likely be diverted down Nassau Street with lighted directional signs to lessen the foot traffic around the ice rink area.
“We’re all in it together to try to make this a wonderful place to live and visit,” said Mark Duncan, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of community, college and government relations. “To identify new ideas, new initiatives and to make them happen to the benefit of all of us is really what it’s all about.”
Pons noted the spirit of cooperation in Colonial Williamsburg’s latest request to have the license expire at the end of February because of the ongoing talks the foundation has been having with First Baptist Church.
“That type of cooperation with an entity in town to try to enhance the connection to the local community is a good thing,” Pons said.
The special event license expires Feb. 29 and a new application must come before City Council next year for the ice rink to operate in the same location for Winter 2016.
Though multiyear event licenses are available in the city, staff recommended a one-year license to be able to assess the rink’s success before next year.