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Author Topic: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?  (Read 168 times)

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Offline Query

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Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« on: November 26, 2017, 08:22:42 PM »
Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?

Obviously outdoor ice rinks are much cheaper to build and if one of the following is true:

1. The climate is such that no refrigeration is usually needed.

or

2. You use synthetic ice instead of water ice.

I also recognize that:

3. Some outdoor ice rinks can take advantage of spectacular local scenery or ideal location.

For example, during the winter there are are at least three reasonably popular outdoor ice rink in my vicinity,

  A. Inner Harbour Ice Rink, in Baltimore.
  B. Washington Harbour Ice Rink in Washington, DC.
  C. Sculpture Garden Ice Rink, in a fountain of the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden.

(The first two are waterfront property. I've been to neither, and can't tell you exactly how popular they are. The third is adjacent to an extremely popular museum, the Smithsonian. I've been at that rink. It is VERY popular. In all three cases, there are significant external attractors.)

But with these exceptions, it appears to me that:

4. You usually need bigger compressors, a beefier refrigeration system in general, and probably more electricity to maintain an outdoor ice rink.

5. The ice quality is usually poorer, and is much less predictable. That is relevant economically, because would-be renters and users care.

6. Based on the small outdoor rink that our facility added a few years ago, A LOT more time is required to do a reasonably competent job of maintaining them. My best guess, not backed up by definite facts, is that the extra cost of building a simple structure to contain the rink, and meeting indoor building codes, is easily made up for by a reduction in future electrical and maintenance costs. In addition, outdoor conditions are much harder on electronic equipment, such as music systems.

7. There are relatively few ice skaters willing to deal with the increased and somewhat unpredictable clothing requirements of skating in an outdoor rink. This is particularly true on unusually cold or windy days, and in times with rain, sleet, snow, and really, really true in hail. For safety, you must close during thunderstorms.

8. It is much harder to rent outdoor ice. Most of the time our 3 indoor surfaces are in use, though during the day on weekdays, that isn't always true, and during the day, usage is admitedly light. We get very little usage of our outdoor surface - though, to be fair, it is smaller than the indoor surfaces, which substantially reduces its usefulness for hockey, except for PeeWee hockey, and 3-on-3 hockey. (I do not count the other two surfaces - not our even small smaller hockey training center surface, because it isn't consistently maintained, nor the curling rink, because I never go there, and you aren't allowed to skate on it, so it is completely irrelevant.)

9. It is harder to keep non-paying customers off of outdoor ice when it is not in use. In other words, physical security is easier indoors.

So, I believe that, unless 1 (favorable climate), 2 (artificial ice) apply, or 3 (spectacular scenery or major external attractant) apply, it is a poor economic decision to create an outdoor ice rink.

Am I wrong?


Offline nicklaszlo

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2017, 03:03:29 PM »
I think 3 is the main issue.  These rinks have a ton of one-time visitors.  They charge more, provide low quality ice, and have a large supply of first time customers.  They can make loads of money.

The Zocalo rink in Mexico City seems to handle a warm climate.

In my experience natural ice rinks in Chicagoland do not charge admission.  But they also do not spend money on making the ice usable.  They exist to promote something else, such as politicians. 

You will not find ice rinks in places that do not have reliable electricity.

Offline Query

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2017, 08:57:41 PM »
Actually, the sculpture garden rink has a lot of repeat customers. It even has a learn-to-skate program. But the The National Mall area has an enormous number of people who visit or work in the vicinity, so the advertising advantage of being visually obvious might outweigh other economic and engineering factors. Even the apparent impractical novelty of skating outdoors in a usually-hot climate might appeal to some of the wealthier set, much like outdoor hot tubs at ski resorts, though the rink closes in the summer.

It doesn't hurt business that the only indoor ice rink in D.C. itself is in a relatively high crime area, far from center city. In fact, all of the indoor rinks that might otherwise compete with The Sculpture Garden rink are too far away for the National Mall lunch time working crowd to commute, and it is also socially convenient for that crowd after work. That crowd really is large enough to create a sizeable market in of itself.

The Zocalo rink, based on a web search, used (uses?) artificial ice (item #2), so much of my logic doesn't apply.

As far as your Chicago area observation, I think all recreational facilities funded by governments serve political purposes. It's perfectly normal for most of the costs of building and running public recreational facilities to be at taxpayer expense. Especially by the time you include tax exempt status, public bonds, free land (which could be profitably leased for other purposes), availability of city engineers, plumbers and electricians, etc. (I figure that in my geographic area, those things combined are worth about $1-$2 million/year for most of the government-run ice rinks, though I haven't worked hard enough to find all the information, so that isn't completely accurate.)

But, with or without public subsidy, it makes sense to make the indoor/outdoor choice on a rational economic basis.


Offline Clarice

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2017, 08:20:56 AM »
The outdoor rink in my area is hugely popular. It is free to skate if you have your own skates, but rentals are also available. Economic factors don't really apply, since it is something the park district chose to provide for the community. They do a pretty good job of maintaining the ice, considering the heavy use. Skating is not allowed if the temperature gets above 50 degrees, and hockey playing is never allowed. The ice surface is fairly small - about 120 by 60. I don't believe it is available for private rentals.

If you want to do serious skating, you go to freestyle at the indoor rink. But if you just want to mess around with friends, the outdoor rink is the place to be. The figure skating club will "flash mob" right before Christmas - no formal performance or anything, we just show up in crazy holiday costumes and join in the fun.

Offline Bill_S

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2017, 08:58:25 AM »
The figure skating club will "flash mob" right before Christmas

Now THAT I'd like to see! Great concept.
Bill Schneider

Offline Query

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2017, 10:24:52 AM »
My question wasn't whether a community sponsored ice rink can be popular. It was more whether the long-term costs and limitations of operating an outdoor rink are such that it would make more economic sense to build an enclosure around it.

An enclosure can often be added after the fact - though that does not make it possible to add year-round operation, because in most climates south of Alaska, I'm told that year-round operation requires that the bottom of the foundation be heated to prevent issues with permafrost formation and erosion, frost heaves, and settling. Such heating is extremely hard to add after-the-fact.

The somewhat-smaller-than-NHL-standard rink in Bowie, MD was originally an outdoor rink, but after 40-odd years, it is having those problems, despite closing for a couple months or so every summer. Admittedly, it WAS much more popular at the outset, as an outdoor rink - often hosting capacity 1500 person crowds on a Friday night, which I find impossible to imagine - but that was probably because Bowie residents didn't used to have as many other things to do as they do now.  (The engineers want to close the current Bowie rink, and rebuild elsewhere.)

There are efforts to enclose Cass Park, a huge rink in Ithaca NY:

  http://www.ithacajournal.com/videos/news/2017/11/07/video-cass-park-events-raise-thousands-rink-enclosure/107427916/

I'm sure there are other examples of after-the-fact enclosures and hoped-for enclosures.

Offline tstop4me

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Re: Do outdoor ice rinks make economic sense?
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2017, 05:44:47 AM »
6. Based on the small outdoor rink that our facility added a few years ago, A LOT more time is required to do a reasonably competent job of maintaining them. My best guess, not backed up by definite facts, is that the extra cost of building a simple structure to contain the rink, and meeting indoor building codes, is easily made up for by a reduction in future electrical and maintenance costs. In addition, outdoor conditions are much harder on electronic equipment, such as music systems.
As is common in such instances, even if you save in the long term via reduced recurring costs, you need an initial hefty infusion of capital funds ... which might be hard to come by.  At my undergrad college, we had an outdoor rink for eons.  It took a strong funding drive to raise enough donations from alumni to finally build an indoor rink.