Towson's Patriot Plaza -— an underused park with a leaky fountain near the Baltimore County government office building — is getting a multimillion-dollar makeover, and officials are floating the idea of placing an outdoor ice rink there.
Officials caution that the ice rink idea is preliminary; they are expected next week to approve the contract for an architect to redesign the park.
Still, an ice rink would be "great if that can happen down the road," said Nancy Hafford, director of Towson's Chamber of Commerce, who served on a committee reviewing ideas for the plaza.
Hafford says the park badly needs a makeover to keep pace with downtown Towson, which is booming with development.
"The plaza is horrible," she said. "There's nothing that entices people to come there."
Patriot Plaza stretches between Towson's Circuit Court building and the Historic Courthouse, which houses government offices. The 2-acre plaza is an expanse of stone and concrete. A fountain was shut off after it leaked into underground county offices and is to be removed as part of the renovation.
Andrea Van Arsdale, the county's planning director, said officials hope to turn the plaza into "something amazing" to draw people year-round. She said the final design might include grassy plots, a paved area for events and a kids' play area.
The design must account for memorials on opposite ends of the plaza that honor fallen police officers and firefighters.
The renovation was proposed in April as a $3 million project, a price that ballooned to $4.25 million after county officials said structural repairs and plaza improvements would cost more than expected.
"We need to fix it once and for all," Chief Administrative Officer Fred Homan told the County Council this week. "It was a bad idea when they did it in the '70s to put a fountain over offices."
Council members peppered Homan with questions about a rink, including how much it might cost and who would run it. Members expressed a mix of curiosity and skepticism.
"When I think of green space, I don't think about an ice rink," said Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat.
Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson, said he's open to the idea of a rink if it makes financial and logistical sense, but he's not sold. If a rink is built, "it won't become Rockefeller Center," he vowed.
Homan said an ice rink is just one of many options.
While there are indoor ice rinks in Baltimore County, there are no outdoor rinks.
In Baltimore, the outdoor rink at the Inner Harbor attracted 20,000 visitors last winter. Anne Arundel County has two outdoor rinks, at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and in the Glen Burnie Town Center.
The renovation of Patriot Plaza is seen as one way to address a need for open space in Towson. Recreational groups have complained that there is insufficient space for youth sports, a problem they say will get worse as more housing is built in Towson.
Others have advocated for walking and biking trails and community gathering spaces.
Council members are expected to vote Monday on a proposal from Marks to increase the waiver fees that Towson developers pay when they cannot include the required amount of green space in their projects.
That money is used to buy and develop parkland, but exemptions mean that many Towson developers pay little to nothing in fees.