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Downtown ice rink a possibility

November 10, 2010 - Downtown Oxford is already known as a great place to eat, shop or go see a movie.

But Ed Hunwick wants to add one more activity ice skating.

"I figured I'd get laughed at, but a lot of people I discussed this with thought it was a great idea if we could pull it off," he said.

Hunwick serves on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board and is heading up this year's Christmas tree lighting ceremony set for Friday, Dec. 3 in Centennial Park.

In order to "stimulate some more traffic downtown" for both the tree lighting event and the Christmas shopping season, Hunwick proposed to council, at Tuesday night's meeting, erecting an ice skating rink in the vacant lot next door to the Sisters hair salon in the northwest quadrant.

"It's just basically to provide the community with an entertainment opportunity during the Christmas season," he said. "If we could have a Norman Rockwell setting on Dec. 3, that would be great."

Council was very receptive to Hunwick's idea. Officials voted 4-1 to allow the DDA's ice rink proposal to move forward and be brought back to council for further consideration at its Nov. 23 meeting.

"The more Norman Rockwell, the better," said village President Teri Stiles.

The vacant lot's owner, fellow DDA board member Chuck Schneider, is in favor of the idea.

"Mr. Schneider's lot provides a great opportunity logistically," Hunwick said. "He's got the parking right there."

Hunwick's vision is to see kids of all ages and their parents coming downtown to use the rink and as a result, patronize local businesses.

"If they're going to be skating downtown, hopefully they'll go into A Familiar Taste to get something to eat," he said.

Hunwick's only proviso was he doesn't want the rink to become a mini winter sports arena. "I don't think I'd like to see high school kids playing hockey on it," he said.

Overall, council liked Hunwick's proposal.

"I think it's a great idea," said Councilman Tony Albensi, who noted there's not much outdoor activity downtown during the winter, especially when compared to the other seasons.

"We were only planning to have this in effect for three weeks. If the village chooses to have it beyond that, then that would be the village's responsibility," Hunwick noted.

Albensi indicated he wants to see more information regarding issues such as liability and ways to monitor the rink.

Hunwick told council that Manager Joe Young contacted the village's insurance carrier and was informed an ice rink could be added to the municipality's existing policy at "no additional cost."

The only council member who raised any objection was Maureen Helmuth.

She noted when the village installed an ice rink in Centennial Park several years ago, "it never froze."

"There were fish in it," joked Helmuth.

"Obviously, Mother Nature's going to play a big part in whether this works or not," replied Hunwick. "If it's cold, the water will freeze."

Helmuth noted the village's previous rink only lasted one season.

"It was destroyed by the end of the season, probably because it never froze," she said. "I think it's a great idea, (but) I would hate to see us spend a lot of money on it and have a pond again."

Hunwick said the DDA isn't planning to have an "elaborate" rink. It would basically consist of some Wolmanized lumber and thick plastic. "Basically, what you did in your backyard when you were a kid trying to learn how to skate," he said.

Resident Rose Bejma noted the reason the old rink never froze was because the ground wasn't frozen when it was installed.

Helmuth said if a rink is constructed, she believes hockey should be allowed.

"I think that would be a mistake because then you're increasing your liability because of flying pucks and what not," Hunwick said. "The pucks could go flying out into M-24 into somebody's windshield."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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