Two weeks after some people walked away from the Festival of Light feeling disappointed, city officials are hoping to impress visitors with a new attraction -- free skating in Bushnell Park.
Beginning Friday, a newly built ice rink will be open for free skating with free skate rentals. The rink, near the Pump House in Bushnell Park, can accommodate 60 to 70 skaters at a time, organizers said.
"I'm hoping people will give it another shot and come out on Dec. 10," said Kate Bolduc, chief operating officer of the Greater Hartford Arts Council. The arts council organizes the Festival of Light and related activities.
"I hope people will embrace this change because it's an expansion, and the city is really doing its best to bring people back downtown," Bolduc said.
Some people who attended the Festival of Light at its new Bushnell Park location on Nov. 26 left feeling let down by what they described as an unimpressive light show. The traditional twinkle lights that illuminated Constitution Plaza -- the festival's prior venue -- were absent, replaced by colored spotlights and search lights. Additional lights will be added in time for the opening of the skating rink, Bolduc said.
Santa Claus will be on hand to meet children at the Pump House on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Construction on the skating rink began last week, with workers laying the foundation and crafting wooden railings around the perimeter. Organizers expected to start making the ice during the weekend.
"This is a labor of love," said Bob Crawford, who owns ice rinks in Simsbury, Cromwell and Bolton and is coordinating the operation of the Hartford rink.
About 300 pairs of skates, donated by a corporate sponsor, will be available for rental.
The plan, Crawford said, is to rotate skaters in and out of the rink every 45 minutes. Organizers will use wrist bands to do so if the rink draws large crowds.
Amateur skaters from Crawford's ice rinks will skate at Bushnell as part of an ice show on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m.
"What we wanted to do was make skating accessible to everybody," said Crawford, a former Hartford Whalers player. "My gut tells me this is going to be very popular."
The rink will be open seven days a week through Jan. 6, including Christmas and New Year's Day.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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