Crowds, first-time skaters make new rink an early success

Springfield’s downtown arena could be open year-round.

Springfield is learning to skate.

The National Trail Parks and Recreation Department’s Chiller, the new ice rink in downtown Springfield, has been open for two months, and backers are buoyed so far by massive weekend crowds, frequent bookings for parties and a lot of recreational hockey.

“The biggest surprise is just how positive the local community has been,” said Jeremy Rogers, assistant general manager for Chiller LLC, the Columbus-based company that manages the new Springfield rink. “It’s a little unique here. In Columbus there is a lot to do, and you open a rink and people come or they don’t. In Springfield everyone has said, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’

“It’s just been like one giant group hug, which is amazing for us to be honest.”

The rink is the final piece in an $18.5 million development plan approved by voters in 2000 that raised some of the funds for Splash Zone Aquatic Center, Carleton Davidson Stadium, improvements to Veterans Park Amphitheater and other improvements throughout Clark County.

While initial curiosity in the new rink was expected to bring early crowds, the test now is how well the facility grows the interest in recreational skating and hockey in the area, backers say.

“The ultimate success is the number of teams that play, and they bring in tournaments and that brings in people,” said local developer Tom Loftis, who helped lead the campaign committee that sought the park district levy. “When you get to that level, you have a very broad range of success. It will take us two, three, four years.”

Beginning at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday in December, the rink hosted figure skating and then hockey lessons. Then two open-skating sessions drew 160 and 190 skaters each, enough that the rink ran out of certain sizes of rental skates. There were 13 birthday parties scheduled that weekend and a sorority from Wittenberg University booked it for an after-hours holiday party. In the middle of the afternoons that weekend, hockey teams from around Ohio and Indiana cycled through for games.

Deb Evans, 43, of Springfield, brought her children, nieces and friends to the rink for an open-skate one recent night. Her family has skated once a year on special outings, usually at Troy’s Hobart Arena. For many years, Evans said she didn’t think NTPRD was ever going to build the rink here.

“I didn’t think it was going to come to be,” she said. “But why go to Dayton or Kettering when you can come here?”

Brandon Eancheff, 14, a freshman at Shawnee High School, has begun skating in Springfield regularly in addition to his club hockey practices in Kettering and Centerville.

“I think it’s a nice hangout here for families,” he said.

NTPRD Director Leann Castillo said the plans at this point are to keep the rink open year-round.

“We have been very excited with how our community has embraced this facility,” she said.

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