Originally published on Ditmas Park Corner, December 17, 2013.
The ice at the new $74 million skating rink in Prospect Park was officially broken in today, as kids from Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment, PS 161 The Crown, and PS 375 Jackie Robinson School laced up skates — many for the first time ever — during the park’s ribbon cutting ceremony for the new LeFrak Center at Lakeside.
It couldn’t have been a better day for it. Snow fell gently onto the outdoor rink, which was closed for the event, and set the backdrop for what will likely be a great new winter destination. Ditmas Park neighbor Margaret Ring, who used to work at the old Wollman Rink and currently works in other areas in the park, was there today, and told us she has been looking forward to this for some time.
“People are going to love it,” said Margaret, who grew up in the area and currently lives on Marlborough Road.
And during the summer, residents will still be able to enjoy the space, as it will be converted to a roller skating rink from April to October, with a water play area for kids as well from May to September. But it was hard to think about summer while the snowflakes were falling.
“Prospect Park always looks particularly nice in a new snowfall like this,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a packed room (the cafe area) of park supporters and journalists, all gathered to get a glimpse of the largest project in the park since its completion nearly 150 years ago.
After thanking everyone who helped make Lakeside happen — including Prospect Park Alliance president Emily Lloyd, Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, Councilmembers Mathieu Eugene and Brad Lander, and the LeFrak family — the outgoing mayor admitted he wouldn’t be skating today, or probably anytime soon, noting that the last time he skated was probably in high school on “a pond down the street” from his home.
He did hand out skates to eager kids, though, in the packed skate rental and locker room area. As students, trying to stay balanced in the crowd in their already laced up skates, attempted to snap pics on their cell phones over the throng of reporters, some noted their surprise that the mayor wasn’t taller.
Those kids had to wait a bit longer to skate, though, as several officials gave their remarks — including Markowitz, who in his last few weeks of borough presidency remains Brooklyn’s biggest cheerleader, calling Prospect Park the best public park in America.
To the LeFrak family, who supplied a $10 million donation to the project, Markowitz said, “It’s a real mitzvah what you’re doing here,” adding that this is something Brooklyn will enjoy for generations to come.
“There will be a lot of marriages as a result of this,” Markowitz said. “Or at least a bunch of dates.”
Richard LeFrak, chairman, president, and CEO of the LeFrak Organization, recalled his family’s long history in Brooklyn — his grandfather and grandmother both grew up here, graduating from Erasmus and New Utrecht high schools, respectively, and the couple bought their first home on Kings Highway.
“I was going to say we came to Brooklyn before it was cool,” LeFrak said, “but I’m going to amend that to say we came to Brooklyn when it was cool the first time around.”
When the kids were at last let loose onto the ice, it was a pretty slow and somewhat herky-jerky affair. Several of the kids we spoke to were on skates for the first time in their lives, and while excited, were a bit trepidatious, and most clung to the wall as they made their way around. A few others were naturals, or had clearly done this before.
“This is my first time on ice skates,” a 10-year-old named Mike told us. “I did roller skate one time, but I broke my arm.” We didn’t see how he fared on the ice, but we did see at least one other boy helped off the rink by the staff on hand after he had a spill.
Skating rink admission will be $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends and holidays, with skate rentals at $5 per person. On Mondays (excluding holidays), children 12 and under can enter the rink for free between 3-6pm for unlimited skating accompanied by an adult; the $5 skate rental charge applies.
Of course, the two rinks aren’t the only new thing about Lakeside. The project reopens an additional 26 acres of parkland, which all looked pretty lovely today in the snow.
The trip by train from Cortelyou Road on the B or Q is about 20 minutes — you can get off the train earlier at the Parkside stop, but the walk from the Prospect Park stop is a little quicker. The parking lot is still under construction, and is expected to open in the fall of 2014.
Lakeside opens to the public on Friday, December 20. Hours for the rink and concessions will be Monday-Thursday 11am-6pm (for the holidays, from opening day until January 1, the rinks and concessions will remain open until 8pm); Friday and Saturday 9am-10pm; and Sunday 9am-8pm. Additional info about sports, events rentals, and more, can be found here.