Big League Dreams' smaller, cheaper and cooler sibling will open to the public this weekend. The $11.5 million Polar Ice Gilbert rink, at the northern end of Crossroads Park, celebrates its grand opening today and Sunday with public skating sessions, food, prizes, face painting and other activities throughout both days, and appearances by Phoenix Coyotes Zybenek Michalek and Steven Reinprecht on Sunday.
http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1155316042/bclid1155212903/bctid1788949269"> VIDEO: New Gilbert ice rink
Big League Dreams' smaller, cheaper and cooler sibling will open to the public this weekend.
The $11.5 million Polar Ice Gilbert rink, at the northern end of Crossroads Park, celebrates its grand opening today and Sunday with public skating sessions, food, prizes, face painting and other activities throughout both days, and appearances by Phoenix Coyotes Zybenek Michalek and Steven Reinprecht on Sunday.
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The facility has been in the works since 2002, and is the product of a public-private deal which has some similarities to - and significant differences from - the one that yielded the $40 million baseball complex and public criticism over cost overruns.
"I don't know if we'll ever do that again," Town Councilman Steve Urie said of the terms under which Big League Dreams was built.
In the case of the rink just west of Greenfield Road between Ray and Warner roads, Polar Ice signed a 30-year lease worth $12,000 annually to the town, and sunk $8.5 million into the building, which it owns. The 80,000-square-foot building has two rinks totaling 17,000 square feet of ice ready for use, along with locker rooms and three expandable party rooms. A restaurant and pro shop will soon follow.
Gilbert spent $3 million to expand Crossroads Park's parking lot and bring in other infrastructure to support the rink.
The town built and owns the Big League Dreams complex, paying the California-based company of the same name to manage it.
The town will get a percentage of the revenue generated at the rink. Also, once the facility begins to generate at least $2.4 million a year, Gilbert would receive more than $100,000 in annual shared revenue.
Urie said it may take a while for either party to see a lot of money rolling in.
"The first year is going to be tough, it's tough for any business," he said.
Spiral Entertainment already owns two Polar Ice rinks in the Valley, in Peoria and Chandler. About a dozen hockey teams and some other skaters are expected to migrate from the other East Valley location, but Polar Ice Gilbert's first year will be largely devoted to introducing new users to the ice.
Polar Ice Gilbert general manager Jim Beyer said the skates the rink will rent for $3.25 per session are ideal for beginners or those who haven't ventured onto the ice for a while.
"These aren't like the ones you see other places that you have to lace up, these are made of rigid plastic," he said. "They really give you a lot of support."
Beyer said about 100 people have already signed up for skating classes, which begin Monday, and hockey leagues will begin to get into gear later in the fall.
Polar Ice is opening in child-laden Gilbert just two weeks after vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin turned "hockey mom" into a household phrase.
"She's obviously been a big boost to hockey," Polar Ice spokeswoman Christine Hamel said.
Beyer said the biggest difference between having a kid who plays hockey versus one who plays soccer or baseball is the level of commitment required to transport the players and their equipment to the limited number of locations where the games can be played.
"Mom and dad are going to have take them and all their equipment and drive them there. It's a sport that requires commitment, family commitment," Beyer said.
Beyer said gender stereotypes tend to hold true for the rink's two major sports, hockey and figure skating, with a 90-10 percent split favoring males in the former and females in the latter.
Brad Berman, who heads the Polar Ice division of Spiral Entertainment, said the Gilbert rink was built to use as little energy as possible, with state-of-the art electronic monitoring of the rink's temperature and humidity, lower-wattage fluorescent light bulbs, skylights in the lobby and a roof sealed shut with foam to keep the cold in and the heat out.
The technology is so new, in fact, that it's hard to say just how much energy it will end up saving. "It's added quite a bit to the expense, but we're thinking there will be significant savings in the long run," Berman said.
Both Polar Ice and Big League Dreams are products of Gilbert's strategy of turning to public-private partnerships to bring in new recreational amenities without losing money on them.
Plans for Crossroads Park originally also called for having a water park built there, but neighborhood opposition and the possibility of characters from the Christian-themed Veggie Tales cartoons being featured at it led to it being scrubbed.
Controversy over the water park and the buyout of Polar Ice by Spiral Entertainment led to delays of a rink originally scheduled to open in 2005, Berman said. He is not related to Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman.