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On ice 

Plans for a rink at Grand Parade are still underway, but it could take a while. Guy Quenneville reports.

What if, during a particularly stressful day at work, you could just take off for lunch, grab a nice hot chocolate and head down to the Grand Parade for a peaceful skate on Halifax’s only downtown skating rink? It could happen, only not as soon as some would hope.

Though plans for the installation of a skating rink in the Grand Parade are still alive and well, the project is taking longer than expected, says Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. The project began in late 2003.

“We met with a couple of the city staff and the guy who had done the design of the Grand Parade to talk about whether a rink would be feasible,” says MacKinnon. “As it turns out, the quick and easy way of flooding we had initially thought of wasn’t feasible.”

MacKinnon believes the logistical problem with the site—a four-foot drop-off slope in the surface—will be solved and city council will approve of the operation by next winter. MacKinnon has met individually with several city councillors and held private meetings with city staffers—both positive signs. But rushing ahead with plans for a rink this year “would be like putting the cart before the horse,” says MacKinnon.

“The next step is to find out if there is a way, by using some additional infrastructure, to put a skating rink in there. The answer is yes.”

The interest in outdoor skating rinks in Halifax seems to be on the rise. Parks Canada has received a proposal from private businesses to put a skating rink on the Garrison Grounds, says Tanya Taylor White, PC’s marketing and communications manager. The proposal is under review and a decision is expected in the next few weeks.

MacKinnon doesn’t believe another rink will slow down the preparations for the Grand Parade rink, unless the Garrison Grounds rink also requires funding from the city. “In terms of usage, there is enough demand,” says MacKinnon.

In order to effectively draw up plans for a rink in the Grand Parade, city council has approved the creation of a management plan. The report, to be drafted by the Capital District of Regional Planning in conjunction with an exterior consultant, and expected to be completed by fall, will lay out how the Grand Parade should be used year-round and include construction drawings of the rink.

MacKinnon says he “will be working with the consultant and encouraging him to recommend that the entire Grand Parade—between the Cenotaph and City Hall, which includes the city councillors’ parking area—be converted into a skating rink for the months January through April.”

The issue of the parking area, which has raised some concern with several city councillors, has been an unfortunate political obstacle, says MacKinnon. “No one is saying that the councillors shouldn’t get free, accessible, close-by parking. But it’s tough to say that they should park in this great civic space when they own a parking lot across the street.”

Jeff Bray, the city planner charged with overseeing the Grand Parade management plan, thinks communication is key. “I think it’s important to consult external stakeholders”—like Parks Canada, Saint Paul’s Church and the Heritage Advisory Committee—“because everyone has a vested interest in the site and many of them use it on a daily basis, such as Saint Paul’s. So their concerns should be addressed and we need to keep them up to speed on what we’re proposing.”

The plan could not come at a better time, says Bray. “Given all the interest in the Grand Parade lately, this is a very timely project, because it will address a lot of concerns that have coincidentally come up and hopefully create a sense of closure. And I think it’s important to direct how this space—which I think is one of the most historically important public spaces in Canada—should be looked after for years to come.”

Though the management plan isn’t complete, MacKinnon estimates the startup cost of the rink will be in excess of $100,000. The DHBC will be approaching corporate sponsors, as well as the Halifax Regional Municipality, to help fund the project. “There are opportunities for someone to be involved and get recognition for their corporation or brand,” says MacKinnon. “We don’t have any on board officially yet, but we’ve had some interest from some companies.”

The rink’s close proximity to the Metro Centre makes it the perfect venue for Moosehead practices, says MacKinnon. But he’s also trying to stay modest. “We aren’t going to be charging admission,” he says. “It’s not going to be a moneymaker. We don’t want to have boards with all these corporate sponsorship ads around it. We want to do something classy.”

While he believes the management plan is a good idea, Bray also states that there is always the possibility that the Grand Parade site will not work out. “It’s a work in progress,” he says. “By the end of the study, it may turn out that the Grand Parade isn’t the best site downtown for a rink. There are no definites at this point. They may find that there’s another location within the downtown for skating for many reasons.”

But most of Halifax has its heart set on the Grand Parade anyway, says MacKinnon.“We’ve had a lot of calls from people saying, ‘That’s a great idea. How could I help?’ Or just calling to ask, ‘Is it happening this winter?’ But I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone say it’s a bad idea. Everyone we’ve talked to has been pretty supportive.”

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