The Shakopee City Council on Tuesday night opted to stick with its original plan of closing Riverside Fields ice rink despite pleas from neighboring residents to keep it open.
Councilor Matt Lehman was the lone supporter of keeping the rink open with the city absorbing the cost of maintenance, which amounted to $16,726 last winter.
Riverside Fields rink is at 7800 Crossings Boulevard on the east side of Shakopee. The park was constructed in 2013, but under the recently council-approved Parks, Trails, and Recreation Master Plan, the rink is now closed and will be moved to Lions Park next year as part of a consolidation effort.
A group of Shakopee residents attended the Dec. 17 council meeting to ask the council to reconsider its decision and continue to maintain and operate the outdoor ice rink. Resident Jess Lowenberg spoke on behalf of the group and presented a petition that, as of Jan. 7, has garnered 510 signatures.
City Administrator Bill Reynolds explained at Tuesday’s meeting that the consolidation effort is part of the city’s goal to make the Parks and Recreation Department more efficient and effective, especially financially.
“Part of the plan was to take these boards and lights to Lions Park … to be able to attract bigger events, have broomball tournaments and other things, and frankly to market that with dual sheets of ice to find ways to program that and bring in revenue,” Reynolds said.
Shakopee resident Jess Lowenberg spoke to the council on behalf of the Riverside Fields neighborhood group. Lowenberg expressed frustration that he and his neighbors hadn’t learned about the rink closing until December, though Mayor Bill Mars stressed that city officials sought public opinion on the master plan for a year leading up to its approval in August.
“I know there’s a lot of passion here,” Mars told the group that attended the meeting. “This has been a year in the making. …It’s sometimes disappointing when people don’t come forward (during planning) but now the change is here upon us and now you’re coming. To that aspect it’s slightly disappointing from a council standpoint after we go through this process.”
Mars added that he doesn’t want to pit neighborhoods against each other, eluding to a mention of the Southbridge Community Park ice rink remaining open just over a mile away from Riverside Fields.
Councilor Jody Brennan said during the planning process members of the parks and recreation steering committee discussed the proximity of the Southbridge ice rink and determined the distance was reasonable.
“It’s a change in philosophy for how parks are. We have Southbridge, which will be more of an active community park, and Riverside Fields will be more of a passive community park,” Brennan said. “It’s not difficult to hop in the car, people do that every day, to go that extra mile to Southbridge.”
To that point, Lowenberg countered that most of the children in the neighborhood are under 12 and can’t go one mile to a park alone.
“Its unrealistic to expect children that aren’t 16 years old to drive to the park,” he said. “There’s 35-plus kids under the age of 12 in every cul-de-sac in every street in our neighborhood.”
Lehman, who was the lone dissenter when the council voted on the master plan in August, said he believes the council should listen to the people.
“When we have this many people coming to us from our community who are our constituents, the representative government is supposed to listen. I have no problem with keeping your ice rink open,” Lehman said. “I would like to look at keeping the costs down.”
Lehman made a motion to keep the rink open, absorb the cost to the city, and work with the residents on ways to keep costs down, but the motion failed due to a lack of second.
Brennan then made a motion to reaffirm the initial decision to close the rink, which was seconded by Councilor Jay Whiting. The motion passed 4-1 with Lehman dissenting, and the vote reading was met with a boo from the audience.
After the vote, Lowenberg expressed his disappointment, directing his comments to Mars.
“Five-hundred people is a large amount, and it would have swayed your last election,” Lowenberg said. “It’s not a threat, but you’re disappointing 500 residents.”