HARTFORD —— With a larger skating rink and new activities, the city and iQuilt are poised to begin the annual Winterfest celebration at Bushnell Park on Friday.
The skating rink, which features free skating, rentals and lessons, has been extended to roughly 100 feet by 100 feet, up from last year's 80-foot by 90-foot structure. The rink accommodates as many as 175 skaters at a time, said Bob Crawford, the event director. In case of long lines, skaters will be rotated every 45 minutes.
This year, the city has created a permanent structure for the rink by pouring a concrete pad near the pump house at Bushnell Park. The concrete will serve as the foundation for the skating rink in the winter, and could be used for other activities in the summer, Crawford said.
"We're looking at a Bryant Park-type concept, with people being able to come in, eat their lunch at picnic tables and playing chess there," he said. "It's a work in progress."
Organizers are also exploring the possibility of bringing snowboarding and sledding activities to the festival through a partnership with Ski Sundown, a New Hartford-based company. They are also looking into offering carriage rides through Bushnell Park on Saturdays, said Kristina Newman-Scott, director of the city's marketing, events and cultural affairs division, who is the chairwoman of the Winterfest committee.
The festival will begin Friday with an opening ceremony at 5 p.m. A procession that includes Mayor Pedro Segarra and Santa Claus will start at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch and proceed to the skating rink. Skating will open for the season a short time later and will continue through Jan. 21.
The park will be lighted with white lights at the entrances, and on trees and poles. The traditional holiday tree — this time, featuring a miniature version of the Colt Dome as a tree-topper — also will be illuminated.
Organizers so far have raised $220,000 from corporate sponsorships, said Julio Concepcion, vice president of Hartford partnerships for MetroHartford Alliance, who is working with iQuilt on the event. Top contributors include Travelers, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Hartford Financial Services Group, The Phoenix Companies Inc., UnitedHealthcare, Prudential, All Waste Inc., LAZ Parking, Mohegan Sun and USA Hauling & Recycling. The fundraising goal is $320,000, Concepcion said.
Winterfest drew more than 100,000 people last winter, Crawford said, with about 50,000 using the skating rink.
He said that the event has had a significant effect on the city's downtown, driving traffic to local restaurants and stores.
It also has encouraged people to visit the park more often.
"I remember the first year, I couldn't get a cup of coffee anywhere," Crawford said, "Now on a Sunday, there's 12 places open where I can get a cup of coffee. It's a great complement to the other great things that happen in the park year-round.
"You see people picking each other up and helping each other on the ice. We've had about a dozen marriage proposals there each year; we'll clear the ice for those. It's just a very positive, outdoor activity."
Public skating hours will be from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day hours are noon to 4 p.m., and New Year's Eve hours are noon to 1 a.m. A free ice skating performance, featuring area figure skaters, will be held Saturdays at 6 p.m.
For more information about Winterfest, visit Hartford.com
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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