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Ice Rink Brings Bronx Out of Skating Freeze

By Patrick Wall | January 11, 2013 7:06am

KINGSBRIDGE — Cary Goodman leaned against the waist-high wall around the new Van Cortlandt Park ice rink and watched as dozens of tiny South Bronx skaters struggled to find their balance.

Goodman, 62, couldn’t stop smiling.

“It’s magical,” said Goodman, the executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, which helped sponsor the preschoolers’ skating trip.

“Today is one of the happiest days I’ve spent in my working career.”

But the moment was also bittersweet.

One of Goodman’s first projects after taking the helm of the BID three years ago was to lobby for a South Bronx ice rink, which he felt would draw attention to the area’s revitalization and correct a decades-old disparity — The Bronx was the only borough without a public rink.

Since November, when the Van Cortlandt Park rink opened, The Bronx now has an outdoor ice destination of its own, but it’s near the northern tip of the borough, far away from Goodman’s perch by the Bronx County Building and Yankee Stadium.

“The ultimate greatest thing would have been to have the rink across from Yankee Stadium,” Goodman said during his visit to the rink Tuesday.

“But this is the next best thing.”

Goodman’s ice quest began in 2009 when he noticed links on the Parks Department website to public rinks in every borough but The Bronx. He soon learned that the last outdoor Bronx rink, in Mullaly Park north of Yankee Stadium, closed in the 1980s.

So Goodman contacted the agency and began a back-and-forth over possible rink sites along 161st Street. Snagged by costs and building rights, the two sides couldn’t find a suitable spot.

Finally, the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, a local nonprofit housed in the former Concourse Plaza Hotel at 161st Street and the Grand Concourse, allowed the BID to install a mini-rink in its courtyard.

Using about $6,000 in BID funds, Goodman laid a 20-by-40-foot oval of artificial ice beside the building, ringed by bales of hay from an upstate farm. Some 2,000 local children skated on the tiny rink that winter, Goodman said.

But it lasted just one season, and was closed down in spring of 2010.

“Our kids and parents were so excited to go skating,” said Kenneth Golden Sr., director of administration at the Highbridge Advisory Council's Head Start program, whose students frequented Goodman’s rink when it was open and traveled to the Van Cortlandt rink Tuesday.

“It’s an experience that our children wouldn’t otherwise get,” Golden added, noting that many families who send children to the program, which is based across from Yankee Stadium, couldn’t afford or wouldn’t think to visit rinks in other parts of the city.

While Goodman was laboring over a South Bronx skate spot, movers and shakers up north were planning a rink of their own.

Members of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy thought that four unused tennis courts in a corner of the park near the end of the No. 1 subway line would make an ideal surface for a seasonal rink, along the lines of the one in Bryant Park.

Daniel Biederman, who sits on the Conservancy’s board of directors, heads the Bryant Park Corporation, the nonprofit management company that runs the Midtown park.

The Conservancy formed a partnership with two private developers and a concessionaire, Ice Rink Events, which also runs the winter rink at Bryant Park, and submitted a proposal to the Parks Department, said Ron Kraut, project manager for that partnership, called Van Cortlandt Park Ice Rink LLC.

“It really was a team effort, from the Conservancy to the Parks Department to the private investors to the community board to ConEd,” which installed a high-powered generator for the chillers, Kraut said.

The Bryant Park Corporation also donated $120,000 to upgrade the electrical infrastructure, according to the Parks Department.

One lesson that the Van Cortlandt Park rink may offer Goodman and other Bronx boosters is the need to attract well-connected backers and form private-public partnerships in order to advance public projects in a time of tight budgets.

“It is a new model for Upper Manhattan and The Bronx,” said Robert Fanuzzi, chairman of Community Board 8, home to the Van Cortlandt rink. “It came right out of the Bryant Park playbook.”

For its part, the Parks Department said it would consider proposals for other Bronx ice rinks and Kraut at Ice Rink Events said his team “would be interested in broadening this effort.”

On Tuesday, 77 students from the Highbridge Advisory Council’s Head Start program glided and slid around the Van Cortlandt Park rink, happy to be on the ice, even if it is about five-and-a-half miles north of their South Bronx neighborhood.

One of the children, Genesis Suastegui, 4, issued some skating advice, which might apply just as well to rink-building.

“Baby steps,” Genesis said, clutching the barrier around the ice, “and slowly.”