By Leah Sander
WINONA LAKE — The formal process of building an ice rink in Winona Lake made some headway on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
The Winona Lake Town Council had a public hearing on the plan to allow WL Ice LLC to be the developer for the project via a public-private agreement.
The town will use a process called BOT to create the ice rink and multi-use pavilion. BOT stands for build, operate and transfer and means a developer can essentially complete a project and later transfer ownership to a government entity.
The council plans to vote on the agreement at its next meeting on March 16 at Winona Lake Town Hall.
Leaders shared more details on the project at Tuesday’s hearing and answered questions and heard comments from people both in-person at the town hall and via Zoom.
The rink and pavilion will be constructed at the former site of the Billy Sunday Tabernacle along Park Avenue.
The project will include the pavilion containing the rink, an outdoor gas fireplace where skaters may warm up and a maintenance building.
The refrigerated rink will be open for only a few months out of the year, but the more than 20,000-square-foot pavilion will be used for other activities during other months. Town Manager Craig Allebach said area elementary school students would be able to ice skate there as part of their physical education classes.
The plan right now is to have the rink open by the end of November. The project is to cost approximately $6.5 million, with $1.5 million to be covered by a K21 Health Foundation grant.
Leaders were asked how they planned to cover the remaining $5 million cost.
Officials said they plan to collect donations, possibly work with the Kosciusko County Community Foundation and possibly use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to pay off the balance.
Leaders were also questioned about whether others besides WL Ice had the opportunity to bid on the project.
“We advertised for proposals and WL Ice was the only proposal we received,” said Allebach. That was at the end of last year.
Allebach noted that leaders have been talking about an ice rink since 2019, even before K21 offered money for the project. Suzie Light, who attended the meeting via Zoom, said various Kosciusko Leadership Academy members had submitted papers advocating for an ice skating rink in the area.
She also presented a statement on behalf of Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. CEO Alan Tio, who’s currently stationed overseas with the Navy.
“KEDCo supports the effort to build a multi-purpose facility that provides a fun, healthy winter activity as an ice rink in winter and a venue that can house concerts and anchor festivals, all of which will enhance the quality of life for many Kosciusko County residents. In addition, this facility provides our community as a possible destination for tourism and recreation enthusiasts. It’s a good addition to our wonderful trail systems,” she said.
Allebach also added that Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer supports the project.
“Mayor Joe and I have had a lot of conversations and he’s completely supportive of this project and will work with us not only with fundraising but also providing a resource where our communities come together,” he said.