Snoqualmie council warms to holiday skate rink plan

After lengthy discussion, and over reservations from some councilmembers and staff, Snoqualmie’s city council voted to explore a deal with the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, funding a holiday festival, complete with synthetic ice rink, that’s set to hit both downtown and the Ridge. Snoqualmie residents want to skate, Chamber Executive Director Lizzy Billington told the council, making a pitch for the Winter Magic festival.

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After lengthy discussion, and over reservations from some councilmembers and staff, Snoqualmie’s city council voted to explore a deal with the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, funding a holiday festival, complete with synthetic ice rink, that’s set to hit both downtown and the Ridge.

Snoqualmie residents want to skate, Chamber Executive Director Lizzy Billington told the council, making a pitch for the Winter Magic festival.

Billington wants $12,000 in city lodging tax funds to rent a 40-by-40-foot synthetic skating rink.

Her initial request to the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee was for a single day of skating. Since then, she has renegotiated the rental to more than two weeks, from December 14 to January 1.

Winter Magic could include skate rentals, carnival games hosted by the YMCA, carriage rides, local merchant gift wrapping, volunteer-run lessons, and a visit by an “ice queen” and “ice princess,” similar to Disney’s ‘Frozen’ movie characters.

“They are a huge draw,” said Billington. “Anyone with a child under the age of 10 knows what I am talking about.”

With a skating admission fee of $10 for adults and children 11 years of age and older, $5 for young children, and estimating 1,100 skaters over a two-week period, Billington conservatively predicted about $7,500 in revenue.

“We’re providing a light at the end of the tunnel for our merchants,” Billington said. “We’re making ourselves available to regional traffic.”

“How many people in the greater Snoqualmie area know how to ice skate?” questioned councilman Charles Peterson.

“In this room, five of us,” replied Billington. “We’ve got some Midwesterners here. Ice skating was a daily part of our childhood.

“My kids have not had this opportunity,” Billington added. “It’s something everybody deserves the opportunity to try.”

Location, location, location

While the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee recommended the mid-year funding request, “The Finance and Administration Committee along with the mayor and administration do not support this funding allocation,” said F&A committee chairwoman Kathy Prewitt, who moved to deny it. Councilman Bryan Holloway seconded.

“There are a lot of holes,” he commented.

“I have some major concerns with this,” said Prewitt. “If we waited and did right for 2105, you would get what you’re looking for….. You are so close to the 14th of December… You’re asking for volunteers at a time when it’s probably the hardest to get volunteers to give up time.”

“I have moms at Snoqualmie Elementary, moms at the Ridge talking to me about this,” said Billington, who also relayed a verbal commitment from Nintendo and other business interest.

“People want something happy to look forward to,” she said. “They wanted an ice rink last year,” she added, referring to last year’s exploration of a permanent King Street real-ice rink. “This is a taste of that.”

The council spent more than an hour discussing details of the plan, including site prep, the status of liability insurance, restrooms and, especially, location. Billington and the council both explored Ridge and downtown sites for the festival. Both places have their pros and cons.

“If we hold this on the Ridge, we could knock it out of the park,” Billington said. “If we hold it in the historic district, we would be supporting our merchants during a difficult time.

“This rink is portable,” Billington added. It takes only a few hours to set up or tear down, she said. The city would be providing its parks staff as manpower for set-up.

Mayor Matt Larson expressed his initial reservations about the downtown, King Street lot, site: “fundamentally, parking and aesthetics.”

“Where are these 500 people going to land?” asked the mayor, referring to parking challenges. “If I was to make this magical place, I have a hard time doing that when within 40 feet, you have tractors and mud. It makes for a troubling ambience.”

But with a rink at the gazebo at Railroad Park, “now you’ve got parking, have opened up parking at the King Street lot. I can see that working,” he said.

Prewitt prioritized downtown. Other council members were favorable to siting the rink at the foot of Center Boulevard on Snoqualmie Ridge.

“It’s almost like the retail center was built to focus on that,” Mayor Larson said.

Councilman Charles Peterson proposed dividing the time for the rink between the historic district and Snoqualmie Ridge.

“I don’t think the merchants in the Ridge area are doing that great, either,” he said.

After withdrawing her motion to deny funding, Prewitt moved to approve, adding two conditions: That the rink be split between downtown and the Ridge, and that the mayor sign an agreement with the chamber for revenue sharing. Holloway seconded, and the motion passed unanimously. The event must go through a special event permitting process.

Locals weigh in

Councilman Bob Jeans, who is liaison to the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, called Winter Magic a classic use for those funds. Cities use lodging taxes to drive up tourism and commerce.

“This isn’t $12,000 going out and not coming back at all,” he said. “This is what LTAC funds are for. This will bring people here, who might stay at the Salish.”

Jeans added that the temporary rink could gauge interest for renewing the project for a permanent downtown rink. Former Chamber CEO Nate Perea had been exploring such a project last year. However, it fizzled due to the expense of adding a significant electrical supply.

Peterson praised Billington for resurrecting the idea.

“You’ve done a nice job in rediscovering this vehicle in a different frame,” he said.

During public comment time, several locals spoke up in favor of the deal.

“I’ll tell you, winter’s very hard here,” said Dave Eiffert, general manager at the Snoqualmie Brewery. “A lot of people are hurting. Even if the rink was to be held on the Ridge… it would bring people in from Issaquah and Sammamish, and give us an opportunity to coax them down here to the tourist district. It might keep some businesses afloat and help put Snoqualmie a little more on the map.”

Snoqualmie resident Charlene Lewalski told how her neighborhood was excited about the city getting a real ice rink, and related how neighbors will travel far for skating.

“We desperately need that to increase our tourism,” said resident Carol Waters, who backed the funding request. “It would draw from outside our Valley.

“I have rarely seen an activity that could pull a community together as quickly and thoroughly as this,” she predicted. “It’s not just for kids, it’s for anybody with two legs.”

“The short term is not nearly as important as the end result,” Waters added.

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