The National Trail Parks and Recreation District’s $8.5 million downtown ice arena project — delayed and relocated multiple times before construction even began — finally will be completed this month, ending a 13-year, $17 million capital campaign.
The NTPRD Chiller, which has been under construction since late February, is tentatively set to open on Oct. 24.
“It’s real now,” said Jeremy Rogers, assistant general manager for the Columbus-based Chiller. “The ice is here. We’re going to be skating soon.”
The ice arena is the final project to be completed as part of the capital campaign that also included Carleton Davidson Stadium, Splash Zone Aquatic Center and improvements to Veterans Park Amphitheater and other smaller parks around the county.
Local developer Tom Loftis, who worked with the late Dick Kuss and many others on the campaign since its beginning, called the downtown ice arena’s completion “a great relief.”
“We felt an obligation to do it, and we’re going to carry it out,” Loftis said. “I think it’s going to be a great addition. I hope the children in the next number of years will thoroughly enjoy it and will be an opportunity they don’t currently have.”
In 2000, the city, county and Clark County Park District programs merged to create National Trail and kick off the capital campaign.
The projects were paid for through a combination of private donations and public money, including a one-year, half-percent sales tax approved by county commissioners in 2001 that generated about $5.5 million. Private donors funded about $7.6 million of the project, while $3.2 million came from the city and another $700,000 from state agencies.
Loftis said he never thought it would take so long for the arena to be completed.
“It really should’ve been done four or five years ago,” Loftis said.
The arena was one of the last pieces to be completed because other projects, like the new pool and the baseball stadium, were deemed higher priorities by NTPRD.
“We knew this was going to be the last one because we wanted to make sure we hit all of our budgets along the line,” Loftis said.
In 2007, the district originally planned to locate the arena at the current Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital but gave up the site for the hospital. In 2009, the district chose the old Memorial Hall site for the arena, but moved it one block south to the former Haucke Complex at West Main and Lowry Avenue in 2012 due to funding and topography issues. In the meantime, the district reached an agreement with the Columbus-based Chiller LLC, which is owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets and operates five ice rinks in central Ohio.
Tim Smith, the former NTPRD CEO, said the Chiller’s participation in the project is crucial, and something the district may not have had four or five years ago.
“They bring expertise, branding and the presence of a major sports team to a community like Springfield,” Smith said. “The benefits will be beyond what we can even imagine right now. I don’t think you can quantify them all.”
The struggling economy, levy campaigns and day-to-day operations kept the ice arena project on the back burner. Smith said he always believe the rink would be completed, but it was a matter of “how and when.”
“In the end, we pushed through,” Smith said.
The cost of the ice arena continued to increase as the project was delayed. In 2009, the project’s estimated cost was $5.5 million, but it increased to $8.5 million late last year.
Loftis had set a Nov. 15 deadline to raise the final $650,000 of a $2.4 million gap in funding. He said he still has $200,000 to raise, but likely won’t complete it until next year. There’s also someone interested in purchasing the former Memorial Hall site, but he couldn’t release details because they’re still in negotiations.
“We’ll keep plugging until we get it,” Loftis said.
NTPRD Director Leann Castillo said the community has been extremely supportive through the construction process.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the community,” Castillo said.
Construction took approximately eight months and used 17 contractors, including several specialty groups.
Castillo said the district worked with many local contractors, including Triec Electric, Bryce Hill, Cason Roofing, Par Striping, Overhead Door and Gates Brothers Glass.
“It’s been great for the community to have that money being spent here,” Castillo said. “Everybody has poured their heart and soul into this.”
Castillo said the Chiller will bring a professional sports presence the community has never had before. They’re able to hit the ground running on programming, while it may have taken NTPRD time to learn how to manage an ice arena.
“They’re going to offer so much in Springfield that we’ve never had the opportunity to do,” Castillo said.
The Chiller will likely begin outfitting the rink with equipment this week once NTPRD receives its occupancy permit. They’re still putting finishing touches on different areas inside the arena.
The arena will seat 300 in the bleachers and will also include a mezzanine area that will provide more seating.
Jeremy Rogers, assistant general manager for the Chiller, said it’s stunning how the rink came together this summer. The facility, he said, is “first-class” and other cities would be happy to have something similar in their town.
“I don’t know of a nicer facility than this one in Ohio,” Rogers said. “Whether you ever skate or have interest in hockey, this is a nice, kind of crown jewel for downtown.
“I’ve been all over the state, and I don’t think there’s going to be a nicer building,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the first goal is to get as many people through the doors as possible as quickly as possible. Once people see how nice the rink is, Rogers said, he believes it will sell itself.
“I’m not saying we don’t have a lot of work to do because we do,” Rogers said. “But once you experience it, you’re going to come back.”
They’ll offer lots of skating immediately to start building programs, and if those start filling up, Rogers said, they’ll add another night. The biggest issue, however, is finding instructors to come from other areas.
“We don’t have skating and hockey coaches living in Springfield,” Rogers said.
They’ll also offer open skate sessions on weekday evenings, as well as during the lunch hour for people who want to skate on their breaks. On weekends, they’ll offer sessions during the day and in the evenings.
“They’ll be a lot of opportunities for people to skate during the week,” Rogers said.
The Chiller also offers a teen-oriented Friday Night Meltdown with a live DJ and disco lights.
“It becomes kind of a hangout,” Rogers said.
Rogers said it’s no secret ice rinks are expensive to run. The Chiller works hard to keep costs down and make it affordable for people.
They offer coupons and special pricing for groups, as well as students and military discounts. They’ll also offer “cheap skate” nights where the price is discounted.
“We’ve got to be flexible, and we’ve got to make it work for people,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be in line with the way other things are priced. It maybe a dollar or two more than going bowling, simply because we can’t charge $3.50 like they do, but will it be three or four more times that so it’s prohibitive? No. It’s going to be in that range.”
Rogers said he’s received lots of interest from Columbus-based teams looking to rent ice time in Springfield. Many of the teams, Rogers said, are playing Dayton-based teams and want to meet halfway to play.
“It’s going to happen a lot because they already play each other anyway,” Rogers said.
Castillo said the Chiller also plans to be open during Holiday in the City and may hold hockey and figure skating exhibitions.
“People who haven’t been around it can come and see it,” Castillo said.
Wittenberg University’s men’s ice hockey club team will likely play four to six home games at the Chiller this season, including one on opening weekend. They’ll likely play back-to-back sets on Friday and Saturday evening.
“They’re in the process of working out some dates,” said Jon Duraj, the associate dean of students for student success and retention at Wittenberg.
The team, which is operated by students, plays a consortium of teams throughout the region. Last month, the Tigers won the season kick-off tournament at Denison University, which also featured Gannon University and Wheeling Jesuit University.
Duraj said having a home rink will be a big step in helping the club groups become more organized. Duraj said there is no timeline or plan to introduce ice hockey as a sport at the university, but said it’s “always on the table.”
“We knew with the arena opening and the partnership here, that’s a first step towards that goal,” Duraj said. “We wanted the arena to open and move forward from there.”
Duraj said offering club ice hockey has already become a recruiting tool for Wittenberg.
“We’re already seeing it,” Duraj said. “Once students come to look at Wittenberg express interest in hockey and we discuss the partnership with the arena, it’s already making them look at Wittenberg so much more. Now that it’s opening, we can really start recruiting hard for our hockey program.”
Close to home
Emily Bonar, a 2013 Kenton Ridge High School graduate and freshman at Ohio State University, has been figure skating since she was five years old. She recently earned a gold medal by passing the United States Figure Skating Association’s Senior Moves in the Field test.
Bonar has spent endless hours driving to and from ice rinks around the Dayton and Columbus area, training mostly at Hobart Arena.
“It was a lot of time spent on the road,” Bonar said.
Bonar and her father, Byron, who served on the NTPRD advisory committee in the past, both said said they’ve waited for a long time for the arena to open downtown.
She plans to train and possibly coach at the arena during her breaks from Ohio State, where she was a member of the synchronized skating team. The program was cancelled because of low numbers.
The Chiller brings a strong reputation to the ice rink in Springfield, Byron Bonar said, and will help increase economic development efforts in the city.
“It’s going to contribute to the quality of life in Springfield,” Byron Bonar said.
Emily Bonar said she believes children in Springfield will be drawn to figure skating or hockey, opportunities they previously didn’t have before. It will also reduce drive times for those already interested in the sports.
“Skating is basically my best friend,” Bonar said. “It’s always there for me when I need it.”
The NTPRD Chiller has been in the works for years. The downtown ice arena is the final piece of the district’s 13-year, $17 million master plan using both public and private dollars to improve parks in Springfield and Clark County. The master plan also saw the completion of Splash Zone Aquatic Center, Carleton Davdison Stadium and improvements to Veterans Park Amphitheater and other improvements throughout Clark County. While the others were completed years ago, the ice arena began construction earlier this year after several years of planning.
Here’s a look at the timeline:
September 2002: National Trail Parks and Recreation District unveiled its master plan, including new facilities such as Carleton Davidson Stadium, Splash Zone and the downtown ice arena.
April 2004: The first major piece of the NTPRD master plan, the $2.6 million Carleton Davidson Stadium, was completed.
May 2007: The second major piece of the NTPRD master plan, the $6 million Splash Zone Aquatic Center, opened.
October 2007: The NTPRD’s original site for the downtown ice arena, the former Trenor-Greenawalt property at 100-120 W. Main St., is sold to a group of surgeons for a downtown surgical hospital. The Ohio Valley Medical Center, now known as Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital, opened in 2009.
December 2009: NTPRD chooses the former Memorial Hall, 300 W. Main St., as the second location of the downtown ice arena. The district was also considering redeveloping the former Metallic Casket Company building on the corner of North and Center streets.
September 2010: Memorial Hall is demolished and the façade is saved to be used as part of the downtown ice arena.
September 2012: NTPRD moves location of the $8.5 million downtown ice arena for the third time to the former Haucke Complex, 300 W. Main St.
February 2013: Construction begins at the downtown ice arena.
June 2013: NTPRD and Columbus-based Chiller, LLC reach an agreement to manage the downtown ice arena. Chiller is owned by the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets
October 2013: The NTPRD Chiller will be open to the public.
Sticking with the story
The News-Sun has written extensively about the NTPRD’s $17 million capital campaign and the developments at the downtown ice arena since the plan was first announced in 2002.
By The Numbers
$17 million: Cost of the NTPRD’s capital campaign, which included private and public dollars.
$8.5 million: Cost of the NTPRD downtown ice arena, up from $5.5 million estimated in 2009.
$200,000: Funding gap remaining for the downtown ice arena.