CVB proposes ice skating rink

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 29, 2010

NATCHEZ — A small delegation from the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau traveled to Marshall, Texas, earlier this month for more ideas on how to transform the city into a winter wonderland.

After viewing Marshall’s new 5,400 square-foot portable ice skating rink, strategically located in front of the city’s 1901 historic courthouse downtown, the Natchez delegation became inspired and began to ask the question, “What if …?”

“We’re looking (to build an ice rink) on the bluff if we could,” said Alderman Bob Pollard, chairman of the city’s tourism committee. “Marshall’s been doing this for 17 years, and they recently grossed $100,000 in six weeks.”

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City Tourism Director Connie Taunton has introduced the idea to the Christmas in Natchez Committee while the CVB continues its research.

“We’re looking to see how we can possibly fund the rink,” Taunton said. “We think it would be an excellent attraction for downtown and help the merchants out.”

The city of Marshall recently replaced its 17-year-old rink with the newer model, said Marshall CVB Director of Sales and Events Tomi Johnson.

Johnson said the city purchased its new 2-year-old rink in Hot Springs, Ark., at a cost of $35,000. The city opens the rink the day before Thanksgiving, during Marshall’s annual Wonderland of Lights celebration, and dismantles the rink after New Year’s.

Johnson said it takes approximately four weeks to build and dismantle the rink, which is stored in a city-owned building for most the year.

The city charges $10 per person for a 90-minute skating session and up to 250 people can skate during each session. Ice skates are provided at no additional cost.

“If people want to bring their own ice skates, that’s great,” Johnson said. “But you know most people don’t have ice skates in Texas.”

The city schedules three sessions a day during its Wonderland of Lights celebration, and smooths the rink’s surface between sessions.

“We’re very much in tune with Christmas and what it stands for here in Marshall,” Johnson said.

“(The rink) is something fun you can do with your kids and make a fool of yourself. A lot of us don’t know how to ice skate, but we have fun, and that’s what makes it a wonderland.”

Johnson said labor costs to install and dismantle the rink are relatively inexpensive because the city recruits jail inmates, community volunteers and a handful of paid employees.

Taunton said Marshall CVB officials suggested Natchez rent a rink as a trial run. Rental prices start at $50,000.

“Their advice to us was to rent for the first year if at all possible to see what’s involved,” Taunton said. “There are a lot of man hours involved and it will take volunteers and a paid staff to maintain the rink.”

Johnson admits building and maintaining the rink is a complex job, but the dividends are irresistible.

“We’ve already turned a profit in six weeks and paid for the new rink,” Johnson said. “It’s our money maker.”