Kensico Dam Plaza Westchester’s Winter Wonderland has been a major success during the past two holiday seasons. Now there’s a plan to attract crowds to the Valhalla park throughout the winter.
Last week County Executive Rob Astorino unveiled a proposal for a unique ice skating facility that would feature a regulation-size hockey rink located near the center of the currently empty reflecting pool next to Kensico Dam. The project also calls for two circular rinks at each end of the pool connected by a one-third of a mile straightaway with a 15-foot-wide lane in each direction.
The proposal is part of Astorino’s $303 million capital projects budget for 2017 that was sent to the Board of Legislators last Thursday, which included $110 million for upgrades at many of the county’s 50 parks. Calling the rinks “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Astorino said it would be one of the largest refrigerated outdoor ice surfaces in the United States.
“I’m just picturing the day when we see families enjoying the rink together, where we have people getting engaged on this ice rink and where we have pictures taken and posted around the world with the beautiful lighting of the dam and the rink here,” Astorino said last Tuesday in the pit of the reflecting pool while accompanied by former New York Ranger Adam Graves, current Rangers Michael Grabner and Nick Holden and the Stepinac High School hockey team.
“I think this is not just going to be a memory maker but it’s going to be something that all of Westchester can be proud of and will attract new dollars to the county from people from all over the region to come spend time here,” he added.
If construction were to begin by late winter or early spring, the facility would open next November, in time to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kensico Dam’s construction, Astorino said.
The 200- by 85-foot hockey rink would be used for games involving youth leagues and area high schools and for figure skating while the outside rinks could host lessons and free skates, he said.
Last year the Board of Legislators approved $4 million to rebuild the reflecting pool with nine cascading fountains that can shoot water 30 feet high. The 720-foot by 135-foot space has been inoperative since 2007. Under the plan, the pool and fountains would be reintroduced and operate in the same space from spring to early fall.
Another $11 million would need to be approved by the Board of Legislators this year to pay for the project – $2.5 million more to complete the refurbishment of the reflecting pool, $4.2 million for the skating facility and $4 million for a maintenance facility to house park employees, the refrigeration system and two Zambonis, according to Astorino.
Anthony Catalano, senior principal at Woodard & Curran Engineering, the firm that has designed the proposed project, said it makes sense for the county to consider using the same space for the ice rinks and the reflecting pool and fountains. Since the area is being disturbed to include the piping for the fountain system, pipes for the refrigeration system could be incorporated as well.
“At the end of the day we feel like we landed in the right spot,” Catalano said. “I have to say this fits, this really fits where we are today.”
If the weather is cold enough the refrigeration can be turned off. There would also be LED lighting and energy-efficient chillers, he said. The facility would be ADA compliant.
County Legislator Francis Corcoran (R-Bedford) said last week he wasn’t certain of the reaction toward the project from the full Board of Legislators. However, he said he’s optimistic most lawmakers will find it a worthwhile project to pursue in light of the success of Winter Wonderland, a holiday-themed event that features music, performers, food and a temporary ice rink at the park that has attracted more than 50,000 visitors during its first two years.
“If you can find a way to extend that and make that into a bigger thing, it’s going to be great,” Corcoran said. “Interest rates are low and these are the kinds of projects you should be doing to get people to come to Westchester.”
Board Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) said the plans sound promising, but the full board will have to weigh in on the capital projects budget. The key will be whether enough legislators will share Astorino’s vision to approve bonding, he said. A majority is needed to approve the capital projects budget but a 12-vote supermajority is required to approve bonding, Kaplowitz said.
Astorino said another advantage of the project is that Kensico Dam Plaza is off of major highways and is within walking distance of the Valhalla Metro-North station.
The New York Rangers, who have their practice facility in Greenburgh, have also agreed to hold clinics at the rink, similar to what the team has done at Winter Wonderland.