New ice rinks being built in Renton, Kent

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Local ice arenas

At Castle Ice, a new rink that opened in the Renton Highlands last month, the moms ooh and ah the minute they enter and take their first breath. Rental skates that still smell like leather mean no more packing post-skating socks.

But even when these fresh shoe skates aren't so fresh anymore, patrons say they'll still bring their families to Castle Ice because it's a nice facility and beats having to drive to Tacoma or Shoreline, the next closest rinks around.

"It's so strange. I lived in Vancouver, B.C., for a number of years and there, in every corner, is an ice rink. And down here there are none," says Elaine Ravsten as she chatted with other moms while their kids and preteens spun, sputtered and slid on the NHL regulation-size rink.

"Hopefully, (Castle Ice) will start a chain reaction and Kent will get one and so on," she says.

Ravsten isn't just dreaming.

Kent Valley Ice Center, already under construction, is set to open this fall with one rink. When completed, this center will have two 200-by-85 feet (NHL regulation size) rinks, a 4,000-square-foot interactive game room, a pro shop, a full-size restaurant overlooking the ice, an off-ice training center, conference/banquet facilities, 10 oversize locker rooms (including two dedicated to women) and private party rooms.

At 58,500 square feet, the arena will be the largest in the Puget Sound area, says Lexi Doner, owner of Urban Landmark Corporation, which also runs the 25-year-old Lynnwood Sno-King Ice Arena and operates Bellevue's downtown holiday outdoor rink.

"We recognized an unmet need in the South End," says Ravsten, who knows what it's like to be without a rink nearby.

Back in the '60s, Doner lived in Des Moines and started skating as a child at the Burien Ice Chalet. When it closed, Doner's parents had to drive him to North Seattle for practices and games.

For years, residents on the Eastside, in Seattle and the South End have expressed interest in getting a rink, but the high price of land made it impossible for developers to open a new rink that already faces monthly utility bills of about $10,000, according to Doner.

His company is able to develop the $10 million Kent facility because of an agreement with the city of Kent. Urban Landmark Corporation will lease the northeast corner of Russell Road Park for a $1 a year for a maximum of 50 years. In exchange, the arena will provide the city's parks-and-recreation department two hours per weekday for instructional programs. City officials see schools incorporating ice-skating activities into their physical-education curriculum.

"This type of arrangement is becoming more common around the country. Because for the city the size of Kent, we can't afford the money needed up front to construct a facility like this unless we pass a bond issue," says Lori Flemm, Kent's superintendent of park planning and development. "It's really a win-win situation from all accounts."

And the timing is right, says Donner. The industry has experienced a lot of growth in the '90s. First came the back-to-back '92 and '94 winter Olympics. "And in '94 Tonya hit Nancy and ice skating was in the news every time you turned on the TV," says Doner, who played professional hockey in Germany after attending the University of Wisconsin on a hockey scholarship. "It boosted sales by about 30 percent."

Soon after that, the NHL expanded to the Southern states. Then the U.S. women's hockey team won the gold medal in '98. Now there are professional skating shows touring the country.

"There's a reason why all that skating is on TV all the time - because it's very popular," says Doner, who has five kids more than familiar with the sport.

No one needs to tell eighth-grader Nick Jovanovich that. After more than two hours at Castle Ice, the rosy-cheeked eighth-grader told his mom he thought ice skating would "be a good school thing."

"We have roller-skating parties, but we've had those ever since kindergarten. I think this would be better," says Nick, who attends St. Anthony's School in Renton.

Little did he know, his mom and a group of other St. Anthony moms were already in cahoots with the exact same idea.