Modesto official wants downtown to be home of new ice rink
Modesto Councilman Chris Ricci says he has an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get more people downtown: The city could make it the home of a permanent outdoor skating rink.
He said the city may consider converting part of the Modesto Center Plaza parking lot for the skating rink. Part of the Modesto Library parking lot or other downtown parking lots could also be in contention, Ricci said.
“Skating creates community, and it’s a spectator sport,” the councilman said. “Ideally, it would be similar to the skating rink” that operates seasonally in the Center Plaza parking lot and draws thousands of people downtown during the holidays.
Modesto provided a temporary Sunday home for roller skaters for about six months on two of its tennis courts at Johansen High School. Skaters congregated on Sundays at East La Loma Park, but some residents of nearby Oakridge townhouses had complained that they could hear the skaters’ music.
Brian Cromwell, who started the Modesto Skates Facebook group in October 2020, organizes the Sunday skating events. Modesto Skates has approximately 3,900 members.
“I like the idea as long as we get a nice skating rink,” Cromwell said of a permanent downtown rink. He said that means an oval with a smooth surface designed specifically for roller skates.
Cromwell said he appreciates the city working with the skaters in finding them temporary housing and supporting the establishment of a permanent outdoor rink. But he said Johansen’s location was inconvenient and had no bathroom, drinking fountain or shade.
Cromwell said about three times the city failed to unlock tennis court doors, including last Sunday, leaving skaters locked out.
Ricci said that when he spoke to city officials about a permanent rink, they told him they were considering placing it in Tuolumne River Regional Park. (In August, city officials talked about the regional park entrance parcel near downtown as a potential site.)
The councilman said he expects the project to take years to become a reality. Modesto can convert part of a downtown parking lot much faster and cheaper, he said.
When asked for a response, Deputy City Manager Caluha Barnes emailed this statement: ‘Balancing priorities, community interest, staff capacity and council priorities , the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department has identified a location for skaters that appears to be working well in Johansen.”
$30 million in grants
Barnes continued, “Thanks to the great work of PRN staff, the city has received over $30 million in grants for several major park improvement projects, as well as a myriad of other projects. Much of this funding has spending deadlines, and associated projects are prioritized.
These grants include $8.5 million each from the state to redo Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. parks in west Modesto, which is one of the city’s poorest and most diverse communities. .
Ricci said the city can consider paying for the rink with a portion of the nearly $46 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding it has received and is receiving. The federal funding is intended to help the city deal with the pandemic.
The city allocated some of the funding to help nonprofit organizations. For example, it has allocated $500,000 each to the Modesto Children’s Museum, the Graffiti USA Museum, which celebrates the city’s automotive culture, and The Awesome Spot, an inclusive playground at Beyer Community Park. The three sites have not yet opened.
Ricci said the city might also consider placing an ice rink in one of its parks if downtown isn’t working. He said Roosevelt or Graceada Parks might be good options. He said one of the most common comments he hears from residents is their desire for a roller rink.
Roller King closed in 2015
Modesto’s last roller rink closed in July 2015 after nearly 31 years in operation. The indoor Roller King had operated in a strip mall where Briggsmore and Orangeburg Avenues meet.
“I think there’s a lot of nostalgia,” Ricci said of the desire to have an ice rink. Roller King “was such an important part of our community, and then it disappeared. … It’s a real thing. There’s a real feeling in the community for that.
Ricci said he will continue to advocate for an ice rink to open as soon as possible and will work to find partners in the community for the project.
This story was originally published February 24, 2022 7:00 a.m.