For the first time in about a decade, outdoor ice skating could return to the Inner Harbor with the creation of a temporary rink at McKeldin Square.
Baltimore's spending panel approved an agreement Wednesday with the Waterfront Partnership, which hopes a temporary rink will bring more city residents and visitors to the harbor during the slower winter months.
But the nonprofit must raise $250,000 by Labor Day to pull off the plans. Other efforts to revive skating at the harbor have failed since an outdoor rink at Rash Field in Federal Hill was closed when its aging equipment could not keep the ice cold enough.
"We thought for years an outdoor rink would be a great attraction at the harbor in the wintertime," said Laurie Schwartz, president of the partnership, which is charged with managing and promoting the city's waterfront.
Schwartz said the partnership is looking for sponsors to cover startup funds for the rink, which is expected to cost $450,000 to operate from November to February. The other $200,000 will be generated by revenue from the rink's operation, she said.
"There seems to be significant interest, but we still have a ways to go," she said.
The rink would build on the harbor's wintertime attractions, she said. Last year, the Waterfront Partnership added a German-style Christmas market at West Shore Park with more than 40 vendors selling crafts, arts and jewelry.
The rink would be decorated for the holidays, offer skating lessons and feature a warming tent. There would be an admission charge, which has not yet been set, and a skate rental fee, but "plenty of free and discounted skating opportunities," Schwartz said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the rink would be a welcome addition.
"For decades, the Inner Harbor has been a destination for great entertainment and fun activities for tourists and residents, alike" she said in a statement. "This exciting new venture could provide yet another family-friendly attraction and entertainment opportunity that would complement the eclectic mix of winter events at the Inner Harbor, like the Holiday Light Show Spectacular, the Christmas Village in Baltimore, and Santa's House."
The Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Rawlings-Blake, approved without discussion the agreement for the use of nearly 2-acre McKeldin Square.
The partnership has selected Virginia-based Rink Management Services Corp. as the rink's operator, following a competitive bid process. Rink Management Services, the largest operator of ice skating rinks in the country, also runs the Reisterstown Sportsplex.
"We have an agreement for the site and we have the operator, and now we're putting together a site plan, funding strategy and we're seeking sponsorships," Schwartz said.
Future redevelopment of McKeldin Square, which could include a large garden, is not expected to be affected by the installation and operation of the rink.
Eventually, Schwartz said, the nonprofit wants to establish a permanent rink at Rash Field. The partnership's long-term "Inner Harbor Plan 2.0" calls for a rink to be included in the $12 million to $20 million overhaul of Rash Field, which would also feature a playground.
The goal is to complete the work on Rash Field by early 2017. A design and engineering firm is to be selected in the coming months.
The old rink at Rash Field was created in 1989 as part of the "Baltimore On Ice" 80-day celebration when the city hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and stayed open seasonally until 1991, according to Tracy Baskerville, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. It cost $85,000 to build and was financed by private contributions.
The rink reopened in 1993, drawing from 30,000 to 45,000 people each season before it closed in 2002.
With the help of sponsorships, the Office of Promotion & the Arts opened the Baltimore Ice Rink at Harbor Point seasonally from 2003 to 2005 with lower attendance. From 8,200 to 16,000 people used the rink each winter, Baskerville said.
That rink closed when no one agreed to operate it.
Baskerville said that even after all these years, people still call and ask where they can go ice skating.
The city runs the indoor Mount Pleasant Ice Arena in Northeastern Baltimore, where people can get skating lessons, play hockey or attend a figure skating summer camp, which costs $150 to $225 for a one-week session.
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Another rink at Patterson Park, the Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center, is open from October to March.
Admission to each is $4 with an additional $2 skate rental fee.
Schwartz said bringing a rink back to the Inner Harbor will give Baltimore an attraction that's popular in a lot of other large cities, including New York, Washington, Chicago and Denver.
"Baltimore's families and children and young professionals deserve to have a wonderful wintertime outdoor rink," she said.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.