Although the Festival of Light's opening ceremony sparked mixed reviews, the ice rink at Bushnell Park has steadily gained popularity during the holiday season, drawing skaters from both the city and the suburbs.
Three weeks after its opening, the rink is averaging about 1,000 visitors a day, and organizers have already begun to think about what 2011's rink might look like.
"It's been phenomenal," said Bob Crawford, who owns several ice rinks in Connecticut and heads the operations of the Bushnell Park rink. "There's been a demand, and we'd like to make it bigger and run it longer" this year.
Crawford envisioned expanding the rink, which currently accommodates about 75 skaters at a time, to hold as many 300. He also suggested keeping the rink open through mid-February, when children have their winter break from school, and inviting more vendors to sell food or gifts.
"I'd like to make it regulation size — about 17,000 square feet," Crawford said. "That would better accommodate the crowds. There's a large influx of people coming to the site every day."
Skaters filled the rink this week while many waited in line for a turn. Visitors were given wristbands and rotated on and off the ice in 45-minute intervals.
Mariane Hart brought her two children, 10-year-old Jackie and 8-year-old David, to skate for the first time on Thursday.
"There's excitement here that you don't get anywhere else," said Hart, of Hebron. "You don't get this at a park in the suburbs."
Tanya Bottaro, of Middletown, watched the skaters with her 2-year-old son, Jackson. She said she doesn't usually come into the city, but made an exception Thursday to check out the rink.
"If they did this more, I'd come down more often," Bottaro said.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said the rink exceeded his expectations, and he hopes to bring it back.
City officials are exploring the idea of opening the rink the same day that the Festival of Light opens — the day after Thanksgiving. In 2010, it opened two weeks after the start of the festival.
The mayor said he would also try to gauge people's expectations of what the festival's opening ceremony should look like, after some people left this year feeling disappointed by what they described as an underwhelming light show.
"I don't think anybody knew how well it was going to be received with the change of venue" from Constitution Plaza to Bushnell Park, Segarra said. "Everybody put their best effort in, but it still didn't meet some of the expectations."
Once the ice rink opened, however, the number of people visiting the park increased, he said.
"It creates a nice scene," Segarra said. "We're far from being Rockefeller Center, but that doesn't mean we can't hope and strive to do better every day."
The rink will be open through Thursday. Skating and skate rentals are free.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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