At 6:30 tonight in Savikko Park, ground will be broken on the Treadwell Arena, moving Juneau and Douglas one step closer to joining the rest of the state and the world's northern regions.
We're finally getting an ice rink.
It's about time.
They've had professional hockey in Los Angeles for more than 25 years and NHL teams from Florida and Texas have been in the Stanley Cup Finals in recent seasons. But if hockey players in Juneau wanted to play they had to hope it was a cold winter and the ice was holding on local lakes, or they had to get out their Rollerblades and find a parking lot.
It never seemed right that the capital city of Alaska didn't have an ice rink, especially since (sorry basketball fans) hockey is the state's most popular sport in Alaska's bigger cities. Basketball may be Alaska's top sport statewide because every village can field a team, but in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Valley and Kenai Peninsula, high school hockey easily outdraws basketball.
Now people in the Juneau-Douglas area will get to see what all the fuss is about.
"Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but when you talk to people from other parts of the state they associate Juneau more with Washington than with Alaska," said Rich Poor, president of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, which spearheaded the drive to get the ice rink built. "One of the reasons they don't see Juneau connected with the rest of the state is because we didn't have hockey. One guy in the Legislature said, 'We know who Carlos Boozer is, but do you know who (Scott) Gomez is?'"
By the way non-hockey fans, Scott Gomez was a two-time Alaska player of the year when he attended East Anchorage High School and is the most prominent of the five Alaskans to reach the NHL over the past two seasons. Gomez won rookie of the year honors as he led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup last season. And he took the Devils back to the Stanley Cup Finals this year, where they lost to a Colorado Avalanche team that during the regular season featured Alaskan Scott Parker.
"Since I've been in Juneau, I've heard people every year say we need an ice rink," said Ben White, who is the contact person for a group of hockey players who meet twice a week at Glacier Valley Elementary School to play Roller hockey during the summer. "Some of the older guys have been saying, 'We'll be old and gray before we ever see an ice rink in this town.' We all complain about it because hockey is meant to be played on ice."
White said members of the Juneau Hockey Team flood a baseball field at Melvin Park and also help set the ice on Mendenhall Lake each winter, but last winter it never got cold enough to hold any ice. Considering a boy and his mother died two winters ago after crashing through Fish Creek pond, having indoor ice solves a safety issue.
"People want their kids to be able to go skating and they want a safe place," said Kim Kiefer, the director of Juneau's Department of Parks and Recreation. "With a lot of people on the ice, you need a good eight to 10 inches on the lakes, more when there's salt water in the mix, and we need a good freeze for that. Our winters have been so inconsistent lately we haven't been able to get that much ice. If you think back on this winter, where there was no skiing until February, having an ice rink provides another winter recreational opportunity for the community."
Juneau's push for an ice rink has been around, off-and-on, for nearly 20 years.
Poor said he remembers a 1985 conversation he had with then-Mayor Fran Ulmer about the need for an ice rink, but the price of oil went into the tank about that time and the project got put on the back burner because it was unlikely to get funding. He said there'd been another bid in the early 1980s, when a local group hoped to be able to host the Arctic Winter Games. An ice rink was included in the $7.5 million Jackie Renninger Recreational Complex that would have been built near Dimond Park, but it was voted down in the 1991 election.
The current push was started in 1997 when the Douglas Fourth of July Committee met to plan its centennial celebration for 1998. Committee member Sandy Williams suggested doing a special project that would have long-term benefits, that the communities of Douglas and Juneau could enjoy. After discussions with then-Juneau Department of Parks and Recreation director Therese Ambrosia-Smith, the committee decided on an ice rink where the current outdoor basketball and tennis courts are in Savikko Park.
The Douglas Fourth of July Committee began raising money and donated $65,000 to the project. In 1998 voters approved $250,000 for a recreation center in Douglas, and Poor said that money gave the project credibility because now a rink had the backing of voters.
During the 2000 election, voters approved $1.1 million for the rink. Since then the city has been able to tap into some state funding, picking up $375,000 from a budget surplus, $150,000 from a proposal by Rep. Bill Hudson, and another $200,000 from a state grant. Kiefer said she's working on another $500,000 grant so Phase II construction can be done with Phase I.
The ice rink will have a final cost of $3.021 million after both Phase I and Phase II construction is completed, about September 2002. The rink will have ice during the winter months, and during the summer it will be converted into two basketball courts and two tennis courts.
"What's exciting about this is it's actually going to happen," Kiefer said. "It's really going to happen. It will definitely be a bare-bones facility, but we're finally going to have an ice rink."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.