City council approves Sweetland on Ice improvements

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The region’s only ice skating rink may be establishing a permanent location on the ground in the near future, following a recent LaGrange City Council decision. 

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council approved $150,000 to create a permanent location for Sweetland on Ice at Sweetland Amphitheatre. 

This will be the third winter that the ice rink has been in place, but the new plan would put it on level ground instead the platform it has used for the last two years.

“What we’re talking about right now is really just providing a space — a flat level surface,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “So, we need to come in here and… we want to come in and build foundations really, for that tent, so that tent doesn’t keep moving. It would be a permanent location for that.”

The decision came as a response to a request from the Downtown LaGrange Development Authority, who hopes to continue to encourage recreation in downtown LaGrange through the ice rink. The $150,000 from the city would cover leveling, drainage and support for the ice rink. The City of LaGrange owns the Sweetland Amphitheatre property, but events at the amphitheater are managed by the DLDA.

“We’ve got a group out of Colorado that makes ice bumper cars, and we’ve got an agreement in place with them to bring them here,” said Bill Hunnicutt, the executive director of the DLDA. “Part of their issue was they were very, very concerned about how the rink is sitting up on that temporary decking system with those banging around. They basically say this needs to be on the ground for safety, and it does anyway. We will be the only venue in the State of Georgia that has ice bumper cars.”

The full cost of the proposed improvements would be around $850,000 and would include a plaza area, a small stage and an enclosure for the ice chiller, which would reduce the amount of noise from the chiller that is heard on the amphitheater’s neighboring properties. However, Kelsey recommended starting with just creating the surface for the ice rink and bolting down the existing tent.

Council Member Jim Arrington asked how the ice bumper cars would work in coordination with ice skating, and Hunnicutt said that the ice rink could be divided into separate sections or separate times could be offered. 

Hunnicutt said the ice bumper cars will be offered for 15 hours a week or more while they are in place, and ice bumper car rides would likely cost around $12 for a 15-minute session.

The DDA has already made several investments to Sweetland on Ice outside of city contributions to the amphitheater including purchasing the large tent, which became a popular spot for visitors long after the ice skating season for which it was originally intended. LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton noted the tent’s use during the recent Governor’s Tourism Conference in LaGrange.

“The DDA two years ago went out and invested $100,000 on the tent that is there now,” Kelsey said. “They have invested in the ice skating rink and the chiller that is involved. Last year, they stepped up to the plate and said, ‘hey, we’re going to offer it.’ So, they went out and bought skates and all the stuff they needed to rent to people, so people could use it. It’s been a very successful investment.”

According to information shared during the meeting, roughly 10,000 skaters used the ice rink last year. However, due to the cost 

of investments made by the DLDA, Hunnicutt said that Sweetland on Ice roughly broke even last year, which is why funding from the city was needed to permanently establish the ice rink. Council Member Tom Gore asked if the city would have funds available for the project without using reserve funds, and Kelsey said that higher than expected revenue from sales tax could be allocated to the project.

“I think it’s great – number one for tourism draw for our community,” Kelsey said. “Regionally, people come from Newnan, Auburn, the Columbus area.”

The LaGrange City Council has been supportive of tourism efforts because more visitors mean that people from outside of the community infuse funds into the local economy. 

“The way I look at money is not always for this to be making an abundance of money, but as the money comes in from the people coming into the City of LaGrange and using our different restaurants and hotels and possibly buying things here in LaGrange,” Council Member Willie Edmondson said. 

Because Troup County has a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in place, visitors shopping in LaGrange help fund local projects like roads, parks and sidewalks. Likewise, funds from the hotel/motel tax are used to both promote the city and make possible events like Rockweave, which both locals and visitors enjoy. The council also discussed the ice rink’s impact on local children in terms of providing another recreation option during the winter.

“I think it’s also great for the kids — our kids that live here,” Kelsey said. “They don’t always have a great place to go. It is a great, safe place with a low cost involved and cheaper than going to the movies to rent some skates and go hang out with your friends. It’s great for our community and our kids as well.”

Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked if the ice rink could be expanded to make it regulation hockey sized. Hunnicutt said the tent would not be large enough to hold a full hockey rink, but he said he had reached out to Troup County Parks and Recreation and learned that it could be used for a youth league or curling competitions.

According to Hunnicutt, there has also been talk of selling package deals in coordination with Callaway Gardens and Great Wolf Lodge Georgia, which would provide a discount to families hoping to enjoy several seasonal activities in the area.