Creating a ‘winter wonderland’ on the waterfront

For years, MRP Realty toyed with the idea of installing an ice rink along Georgetown’s waterfront.

But it wasn’t until a 10-foot surge of water from the Potomac River flooded restaurants like Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place in April 2011 that the project became possible.

“I think the idea [of an ice rink] was in the works for a while, but the flood provided the opportunity because they were looking at a large renovation,” said Marissa Marwell, regional manager for Rink Management Services. “They were looking for more of an attraction for the wintertime. A seasonal ice rink seemed to be the perfect fit.”

The rink, which is built over the fountains in the middle of the harbor’s circular plaza, takes about three weeks and a 15-person crew to install.

The 11,800 square feet of decking – about the area of two basketball courts – includes a dash and board layer with hand rails, and a layer of piping to pump the ice-making brine. Marwell and the Rink Management Services team work year-round to market and find sponsors for the project.

Sponsorship packages start at $3,500 and are typically displayed in signs and ads along the rink’s glass. Some sponsors hold promotional events, such as City Financial, which sponsored two hours of free skating last year.

Once the rink is done, Marwell said, it looks “kind of [like] a winter wonderland.”

“It’s important to get open because we have a lot of walking people in this area,” she said. “If someone’s brave enough to get up and walk in the snow and the ice rink is open when it’s snowing, it’s kind of beautiful, it’s definitely magical.”

Though Marwell said snow looks beautiful over the rink in small amounts, unpredictable D.C. weather on the waterfront can make snow removal difficult. In the middle of what Marwell called a “bowl,” the rink is surrounded by the Potomac River on one side and businesses on the other three.

Last year, right as the crew was about to take down the ice rink in early March, it snowed three feet – forcing a construction team to stay in D.C. overnight to disassemble the rink.

This season, Washington Harbor is looking to cater to the college crowd by offering specials like College Nights on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. – anyone with a student ID gets a $2 admission discount – as well as Rock and Skate on Saturday nights with a live DJ who will take requests.

Some businesses along the Waterfront, like Sequoia, enjoy the new addition to their community but don’t go beyond the call of duty to accommodate it, while others have taken the rink’s popularity as an opportunity to grow their customer base.

Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place’s manager, Dave Pera, said over the last three years, the restaurant has given skaters discounts on hot cocoa and added rubber mats outside so skaters don’t have to walk on the bricks in skates.

He’s making changes to the menu this year as well. Grilling hot dogs Saturday afternoons and oysters at night, Joe’s hopes to use new outdoor seating to attract the crowds that the rink brings out on weekends.

“We’ve realized it’s more of a family environment during the day and a bit more of a date-night attraction at night, so we want to cater to the different crowds,” Pera said.

Across the rink at Nick’s Riverside Grill, management is trying similar strategies. Last year, skaters got a meal for two at a discounted price.

Manager Brett Keyes said this season the restaurant is planning to give skaters a voucher for a free appetizer with the purchase of two entrees. Nick’s is also adding hot chocolate and apple cider to their otherwise bar-oriented menu, acknowledging that the change of season heralds a more family-based crowd along with the typical bar-goers.

Both restaurants also added three fire pits each to encourage patrons to sit outside.

“People like to be outside and sit by fire – and watch people fall down on skates,” Pera said.

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