Dillon considers concepts for long-term partnership with Ice Castles
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Pedro Campos has been hired by Ice Castles to help develop new concepts for the attraction.
DILLON — The Dillon Ice Castles might turn into a more permanent winter fixture at the Town Park as the town and company work through negotiations for a potential long-term agreement.
The 2019-20 iteration of the ice castles has been open in Dillon for less than two weeks, though leadership at the town and Ice Castles already are looking to the future to decide whether Dillon is the right location to continue to host the attraction in coming years. Past issues with the castles — including damage to the lawn and the amount of time they shut down other recreational opportunities at the park — mean it’s unclear whether they will return, especially with major park improvement projects on the horizon.
But Ice Castles representatives have made it clear they intend to open a location in the area next winter, whether it’s in Dillon or not. During the Dillon Town Council work session Tuesday evening, Ice Castles CEO Ryan Davis was in attendance to provide a presentation on new concepts that might allow the castles to remain on a portion of the park, which is considered the only real feasible site in town.
“As we’ve had discussions with (Public Works Director Scott O’Brien) … we’ve asked a lot of questions about what’s the ground going to be like, and what we think is going to happen with that lawn,” Davis said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in internal discussion of what our impact would be … and we’re coming to the conclusion that ice castles on this field probably is not a good idea.
“Where we’re at right now is we’re looking at other locations in Summit County because we intend to open next winter, and knowing this (new lawn) is going to be installed this summer puts us in an interesting place to figure out what we’re going to do. As part of that, we started looking at this park plan and figuring out if there was a way that we could mix what we’re doing into that without doing any damage to the multiuse field.”
The ice castles are certainly popular among business owners in the area, who say the attraction helps to drive new customers to their stores and restaurants. According to Davis, the castles have driven an average of almost 145,000 visitors to Dillon over the first two seasons they were in town (2017-18, 2018-19). Davis also noted a considerable economic impact in the area, estimating more than $10 million spent in the greater Summit community during the 2018-19 season as a result of the amenity, along with more than 275 million media impressions.
But the castles also have driven criticism from some residents in the area along with members of the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee because of damage to the park and concerns that the attraction is taking away potential for other park uses for too long during the season. In June, town officials signed off on $1.2 million in park improvements and recently completed a number of upgrades to roadways and parking lots surrounding the area. Improvements will continue later this year, with more than $1 million budgeted for a new multiuse field and playground, among other projects.
With concerns that the castles might prove counterintuitive to the community’s goals as new improvements go in — all based on the Town Park Master Plan adopted following substantial public input in 2014 — Ice Castles is hopeful that rearranging their designs in the future could ease worries surrounding damage while also allowing the company to stay at the park long-term.
Davis presented new concepts for the park that are being considering for the 2020-21 season, noting that while they’re somewhat beyond the brainstorming phase, the proposed designs are still in the early stages.
The new concept essentially would call for an updated dual-use plan for the north section of the park, moving the ice castles from their current location along Buffalo Street north to Tenderfoot Street, where the existing basketball court is, and creating a series of wildflower gardens that would emerge during summer. This would theoretically open up other parts of the park for even more amenities as part of the experience, including lower maintenance snow caves, lighted and decorative pathways, and even an ice skating rink on one of the tennis courts, among other ideas, all while preserving the incoming field.
Of note, any long-term agreement with Ice Castles likely would mean financial assistance from the company for capital improvements at the park for things like landscaping and improved drainage.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for the town, from my standpoint, to integrate this with a use and manner that can coexist and have synergy with the park plan, particularly for seasonal use,” said Pedro Campos, a landscape architect with Zehren and Associates who helped the town design the park master plan, and who is working for Ice Castles to develop the new concepts. “That’s something we need to think through. For the summer, the field and playground will be a draw and attraction. In the winter, it’s much more of a passive space.”
Initial responses from members of the public to the proposal were split, with some lauding the town for searching for solutions to keep the ice castles in Dillon and support local businesses.
“I commend you for being open minded to what I thought was a great idea that would definitely help my business and other business owners,” said Judy Jordan, one of the owners of Pug Ryan’s Brewery. “The business they provide to our community is substantial, and we would provide better paying and more jobs in the event there was a long-term partnership.”
Though, not all were thrilled about the new proposal, including Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee member Barb Richard, who was in attendance and chided council members and Ice Castles for how the attraction has been handled over the past few years.
“There is a master plan that went through an extensive public process,” Richard said. “We’re now moving into construction phases for this plan. This is talking about huge changes to the plan. I’d like to remind the council that the public owns this park. … This is a business operating on public land. As we’ve stated multiple times before, we feel they are not paying for the annual damage they inflict on the park. They are tying up the park and basically the town is being used.
“They’re using significant square footage for business profit, and the town is not getting a percentage of every ticket. … It needs to be looked at by the community. As a resident who lives up there, you’re talking about giving them more of the park to use, more of the park to lock up. And they have not proven themselves to be worthy partners.”
While council members largely expressed optimism that the proposal could end up working, several also voiced concerns about tying up too much of the park with paid amenities.
“I like the ice castles being put in another position in the park, but I do not like the idea of three-quarters of the Town Park being pay to enter for ice skating or snow caves,” Councilman Kyle Hendricks said.
“I think it sounds like a really cool idea, but I’d kind of hate to see the whole park fenced off,” Councilwoman Karen Kaminski added.
Ultimately, the council decided to continue conversations to make a long-term partnership work but also noted a desire to get members of the public involved in the process.
“I feel like this use may be a little divergent from what we went through in this yearslong process for the Town Park,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “That was a very public process, and the public was super involved. So I wonder if it would be appropriate to go back to the public, and say ‘We have this option to change what we initially talked about for the Town Park, and what do you think of it?’ That’s a direction I’d feel comfortable going in.”
The town will be hosting a public work session on the park from 5-7 p.m. Jan. 30 at Dillon Town Hall. For more information on the work session or the new proposals, visit townofdillon.com.
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