A group of Shakopee neighbors has lost their battle to reopen an outdoor ice rink, despite emotional appeals and 500 signatures on a petition urging the city to rethink the shutdown.
Residents living near Riverside Fields Park on Shakopee’s east side said they were surprised the city didn’t flood the rink there before learning last month that a new parks and recreation plan had called for its closure, with the boards and lights slated for reuse at another ice rink.
Jess Lowenberg, who said his young children love to skate, urged the City Council to reconsider, with the backing of several dozen fellow residents.
“What we’re asking is pretty simple — please keep our outdoor rink open,” Lowenberg said at a council meeting this week. He said the city could at least flood the rink this year “and give us one more chance to prove to you guys that the demand is there.”
But the council wasn’t swayed, voting 4-1 to keep the rink closed. City officials cited the parks and recreation plan, adopted in August, directing consolidation of the city’s six rinks into four higher-quality skating sites, including two at Lions Park. They suggested that Riverside Fields skaters could instead go to Southbridge Community Park, about a mile away.
Lowenberg cited figures from the city showing that keeping the rink open without the warming house would cost about $11,000 a year, which he said wasn’t much compared with the plan’s total price tag of several million dollars.
“If money really is the issue, I think there are creative solutions,” he said, such as finding local businesses as sponsors or even having residents pay for the rink themselves.
But Mayor Bill Mars, who described himself as a “rink rat” growing up, said it wasn’t about the money. “It’s being efficient and effective, it’s trying to find balance,” he said.
Lowenberg took issue with some of the city’s data showing low demand for rinks in the south and southeastern parts of town, adding that Riverside Fields was third out of the six rinks in attendance in 2018 and 2019 and one of three rinks to show an increase in skaters in that time. He estimated there are about 400 school-age kids within walking distance of Riverside Fields’ rink.
Council Member Matt Lehman, who was on the steering committee that helped develop the parks plan but ultimately didn’t support the plan, cast the sole vote to reconsider closing the rink.
“I think [the closure] is taking away from our small-town feel,” he said. Though the city has a community center with two indoor sheets of ice, he said, “it’s hard to get into … and the experience is nowhere near the same.”
Council Member Jody Brennan, who also was on the steering committee, said the new plan will make Riverside Fields and a new adjacent park called Ridge Creek into “passive” spaces focused on nature rather than activity. “It’s not difficult to hop in the car ... to go that mile to get to that park over at Southbridge,” she said.
The idea for a new parks plan came about because the city wanted to get a handle on its parks budget, said City Administrator Bill Reynolds, after realizing that Shakopee spent more on parks than comparable municipalities. The $33 million renovation of the Shakopee Community Center in 2016, which added two sheets of ice and a pool, was part of the reason costs were high, Reynolds said.
Steve Oleheiser, president of Minnesota Hockey, the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in the state, said the number of outdoor ice rinks has been declining for 25 years, though it has stabilized somewhat of late. The decline can be partly attributed to more families making their own backyard rinks and the growth of indoor facilities.
“Every time you put another sheet of ice [indoors] … now the usages outside are going to decrease,” Oleheiser said.