COLUMBIA — Columbia skating enthusiasts with nowhere to go might soon have a solution to their problem.
Boone Ice Group, an organization comprised of Columbia residents interested in bringing an ice rink to Columbia, says it is close to making that plan come to fruition. The group formed in 2006 for the purpose of improving Columbia as a place to live, said co-founder C.K. Hoenes.
"In the winter there's not a whole lot to do. The city doesn't offer much from a recreation standpoint, other than the ARC (Activity and Recreation Center)," he said.
The closest ice rink is Washington Park Ice Arena in Jefferson City. For years, Columbia residents have had to make the drive there to enjoy winter activities like skating and hockey. The arena opened in 1960 and is open from Aug. 1 through mid-April every year, said Bill Lockwood, director of Jefferson City's parks and recreation department.
The arena is open to the public for open skate sessions, figure skating, hockey programs, birthday parties, ice shows and recitals, among other things. Lockwood said the rink sees tens of thousands of visitors throughout the year.
"We get a number of nice families and private rentals that come down from Columbia," he said. "But most of the people come from around Jefferson City and surrounding towns from the east and south."
Hoenes said bringing a rink to Columbia could be profitable.
"If run properly, the rink should be able to break even or run out a profit," he said. "We're working with a general manager of another rink, and he's sharing his operational numbers with us to show that it's possible."
John Lamond, MU hockey club head coach, is also a member of Boone Ice Group. His team travels to Jefferson City twice a week for practices during the season. The benefits of having an ice rink in Columbia are endless, he said.
"It'd be enormous. We're a nationally respected group and players still come to us, but a rink would help us get sponsors," he said.
Lamond pointed out Lindenwood University, a small school in St. Charles that has a strong hockey program. Lindenwood recruits national and international players, and Lamond said a Columbia rink could help MU do the same.
"The quality of players we get now is amazing, but a rink would further help player development," he said.
Lamond said Boone Ice Group is as close as it ever has been financially in building a rink for the city. But, the group declined to disclose who the potential investors are.
There is no set date for the construction of a rink, but Lamond hopes to have one by August 2011, before the start of a new hockey season. Hoenes said the rink wouldn't just be for hockey players.
"A lot of people when they look at special interest groups may think we only want a rink to play hockey," Hoenes said. "There are a lot of areas that would use the rink besides hockey, and the biggest would be use for public sessions and other events."
Tammy Miller, Columbia Parks and Recreation spokeswoman, said Boone Ice Group will meet with the department sometime this week to discuss plans for a rink. The department's 2002 master plan allocated space for an ice rink, though nothing has been planned yet by the city, Miller said.
Columbia's former ice rink, Ice Chalet, closed in 1981. Hoenes grew up playing hockey in that rink.
"It didn't close due to lack of use. When the rink was built, it was privately done and a lot of money was spent on it. There were major management issues. The owners weren't involved with the hands-on operation and it was loosely ran," he said.
After the facility closed, Ice Chalet was used for indoor tennis and soccer and was a bus station before becoming the antique mall it is today, Hoenes said.