Olympia’s temporary ice rink skated its way to success

Skaters arrive on the opening day of Oly on Ice in November.
Skaters arrive on the opening day of Oly on Ice in November. Olympian file photo

The tent is down, the ice has melted — and now the numbers are in.

The city of Olympia says attendance at Oly on Ice, the seasonal ice skating rink that opened the weekend before Thanksgiving and closed Jan. 6, was more than double what it had projected for its inaugural year. Planning already has begun for the 2019-20 season.

“From the beginning, we felt like, short of it being a colossal failure, we wanted to give it three years” to get off the ground, said Scott River, associate director of the city’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Department. “With the success of this season, we think it’s obvious there’s an appetite for it to come back.”

The city had projected attendance of 9,500 skaters based on numbers from other cities in their first year. Oly on Ice ended up logging more than 20,400 skaters.

Not everyone was a skilled skater. Plenty stuck to the perimeter within arm’s reach of the wall; there were falls and even broken bones.

“It was very obvious which folks were our Midwest or East Coast transplants,” said River, adding Olympia is not traditionally a “skating community.”

But that didn’t keep the crowds away. River, who came up with the city’s attendance projection, said he was particularly surprised by the week night attendance, even before school vacation started and after it ended.

Initially the city planned to cover about 60 percent of the cost to operate the rink. That subsidy will be lower since expenses so far have come in under budget and revenue came in higher than expected, River said.

He said the goal is to break even in future years.

For next year, officials are looking at expanding the rink size and the length of the season, possibly running the rink through Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and bringing food vendors inside the tent.

The idea to bring a skating rink to Olympia had been kicked around for years but where to put it was always a question. Last year the city built a park on the isthmus for seasonal uses like this in mind.

Next, the city plans to install a portable pump track — a bike loop with bumps and curves that skilled riders can get around without pedaling — at the same park in April.

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.