Lasker Rink Renovations Generates Both Joy and Backlash

Welcome renovations evoke ire for reducing rink and pool size by 25%

Lasker Rink (2019), Photo by London Road (CC BY 2.0) – https://flic.kr/p/2i1fjH6

(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— The city is set to revamp but reduce the size of North Central Park’s ice rink and pool, Gothamist reports. Lasker Pool is operated by the Parks department in the Summer, while in the Winter, Lasker Skating rink is managed by the Trump Organization, which has operated the two ice rinks in Central Park for 32 years. Renovation construction is set to begin in Spring 2021, when the Trump Organization’s contract expires, and finish in 2024.

The Central Park Conservancy quietly announced the renovation of Lasker in Fall 2019. It will be one of the largest, most expensive renovations in the department’s history, at an estimated cost of $150 million. Lasker Rink was built in 1966 and is, the Conservancy claims, “beyond repair.” The planned renovations will redesign the existing pool house and pool to integrate with the rest of the park more naturally; rectify flooding from The Loch, a manmade stream that was rerouted during Lasker’s construction; and provide increased amenities for park goers year-round, including public restrooms. You can read more about the redesign on the Conservancy’s official website, here and here.

Controversy arose with the news that the size of the rink and the pool would be reduced by about 25%. Currently Lasker hosts one pool in the Summer and two rinks in the Winter, each 195 by 65 feet (just slightly smaller than a regulation size rink). One hosts free skating sessions and public skating sessions and the other is reserved for hockey teams. The new design will include just one rink, for recreational skaters, and will diminish the size of a pool and eliminate a child wading pool for a “splash pad.” Residents worry that this is not enough.

Although the splash pad is meant to increase access to year-round recreational activities, beyond the public pool season, the trade-off might be a poor one. Public pools run through the hottest months of Summer vacation, May to September. Although splash pads may be open “year-round,” many off-season months offer little need for respite from the heat. In contrast, when Summer is at its peak, roughly 220,000 people frequent the pool annually, The New York Times reports. Over 70% are locals of Harlem, Upper Manhattan, and the Bronx. While Lasker Pool capacity is currently 1,824 people (that’s when it’s packed to full capacity), and is one of many public pools in Upper Manhattan, anyone who has visited in the Summer months can tell you that it is usually filled to the brim.

Harlem hockey players are particularly worried. Although there are a bevy of seasonal ice-skating rinks in lower and Midtown Manhattan, Lasker Rink is one of only two in Upper Manhattan above 63rd street, including the publicly operated Riverbank State Park. Both rinks are wonderful resources for local skaters, lower priced than their downtown competitors, and offer reprieve from the crowded conditions of the midtown rinks, which are often overwhelmed by tourists. The planned renovations will serve these skaters well: a planned boardwalk on the Meer will also convert to an extended ice-skating ribbon in the winter, if all goes as planned. By contrast, almost 1,500 hockey players will find their facilities displaced, an online petition claims. Despite Riverbank Park’s ample facilities, the hockey program is already quite full. Under the current plan for Lasker, either hockey players or free skaters will find themselves compromised on space. Local community programs like Ice Hockey in Harlem will likely suffer; although the high price of ice hockey has, for many years, made it difficult to mobilize full community engagement in the sport.

Lurking in the background is a fear that improved facilities in Central Park North will only accelerate gentrification Harlem, commenters worry. Unfortunately, with the extreme state of income inequality in New York, it is hard to imagine a service that benefits the underserved communities of Harlem, as the Conservancy aims to do, without also unintentionally displacing them by attracting wealthy buyers and eager developers.

Meanwhile, the City’s decisive vote on the redesign has been postponed again. All wait to see if the design will live up to its lofty promises, especially with the still-fresh memory of the Wollman Rink fiasco, which ran ten years behind schedule and nearly 100% over budget, until it was renovated by Trump in 1980—much to the modern New Yorker’s chagrin.

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