Since I grew up on a small pond in Rhode Island, my winter memories include being heavily bundled up by my mother and sent out to skate in our ice-filled backyard. With a tug on my zipper and a pat on my bottom, she ushered my puffy poinsettia-colored snowsuit and me off to have some fun on the ice. Regardless of whether you skate on a pond or a rink, it’s a fun and healthy activity for all.
Those of us lucky enough to live in Providence have access to the Bank of America Skating Center, which trumps most skating rinks in terms of size and sizzle. The rink, open for public skating from now until March 18, is a staggering 14,000 square feet – two times the size of New York’s famed landmark at Rockefeller Center.
The rink was originally opened as the Fleet Skating Center in 1998 by then Mayor Buddy Cianci. “Fleet was sold to Bank of America in 2004 and so the naming rights changed at that point,” says Deb Dormody, Bank of America City Center Program and Market Manager. “I was hired in 2008 in an effort to activate and enliven the Greater Kennedy Plaza area – the heart of our city.” Dormody works diligently each winter to promote the exciting downtown destination, often partnering with area businesses to increase their participation.
One of the highlights of January will be when our hometown Providence Bruins take the ice for practice scrimmages. Always well-attended events, the practices even allow fans the opportunity to skate with their favorite players. I’m told that the players truly enjoy the open skate, as it gives them the chance to interact with their fans.
A great occasion for young and budding skaters to get inspired, the Bruins events also motivate the public to get in better shape. Since skating works muscles in ways that gym equipment often cannot, many Rhode Islanders who work downtown have swapped their weights for skates; the rink now offers an affordable weekday lunchtime skating pass.
The skating center also hosts many East Side groups, ranging from scout troops to church groups to Brown University students. Dormody especially enjoys the second graders from the French-American School who drop by for a skate after walking over from the school. “Watching them navigate on the ice, many for the first time, is adorable,” she says. “The kids’ centers of gravity are so low that when they fall, they can pop back up very fast.” The skating center is also a quick walk from the Providence Place Mall, if that’s where you choose to park; there’s a pedestrian tunnel connecting the rink to Waterplace Park, which is located directly in front of the mall’s main entrance doors.
There’s rarely a dull moment at the skating center, and among the 60,000 skaters who use it each year, there are always a handful of marriage proposals that take place on the ice. If the person doing the proposing requests it in advance, Dormody will play the couple’s special song as they’re invited to enter the ice after the Zamboni run. “So far we’ve only had yeses,” Dormody notes, “in case anyone is thinking of popping the question!”
The rink is also host to Skate for Joy, a local noprofit organization that helps undeserved youth from all backgrounds discover the joy of ice skating as part of an after-school US Figure Skating Basic Skills program. The organization strives to inspire young skaters, regardless of race or creed, by teaching goal-setting skills as well as the importance of physical fitness. Learning within this structured and disciplined environment, the students build self-esteem and discover how important it is to respect themselves and others. “The work [Skate for Joy] does is excellent,” according to Dormody, “because they’re working with kids who might not otherwise have the option to experience the joys of this sport.” Skate for Joy is always looking for adults who have ice skating or hockey experience and would like to make a difference in the lives of local children growing up in difficult circumstances. They also welcome people who would like to volunteer their time for clerical or fundraising duties. Finally, donations of skates, hats, gloves, sweatshirts or money are both accepted and tax-deductible.
Recent upgrades to the rink’s heated birthday tent ensure that any parties held this year will be more special than ever before. Parents can arrive early to decorate the tent in their special theme – a great backdrop to a child’s special day. Parents only have to bring the birthday cake, since rink employees take care of the other details like plates, cups, utensils, chairs and tables.
When visiting the skating center, both children and adults should dress in layers and bring gloves and a hat. There’s no need for newcomers to be nervous, since skating instruction is available via the Learn to Skate program, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday mornings over a six-week time frame. The program’s skating coach also offers one-time drop-in refresher courses on Sunday mornings for those folks who haven’t skated in a while. Locker and skate rentals, as well as skate sharpening, make the Bank of America Skating Center a full-service entity.
Dormody hopes to add more amenities in the coming years – such as fire pits and a place to get hot toddies – in order to make the rink even cozier than it already is. They’re currently looking for a sponsor to help install a small pavilion to enhance birthday parties at the rink. “And as part of our larger efforts in Greater Kennedy Plaza, we are working with the Planning Department and RIPTA to make the plaza more accessible by all modes of transportation.” Including Zambonis, we assume.