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Rink of Dreams breaks ground at Ottawa City Hall

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

It's not just a Rink of Dreams anymore.

With a toss of several shovels at Marion Dewar Plaza, ground was officially broken today on the community ice facility which is slated to begin operation by January 2012 at the latest. The project is a partnership involving the Ottawa Senators, the Sens Foundation, the City of Ottawa and the Hockey Canada Foundation.

"Today is a proud day for all of us here," said Senators president Cyril Leeder. "In a short period of time, we've completed the fundraising, we've finalized the design, we've rallied the community and we're about to start construction. When the facility opens in late December or early in (2012), it'll be slightly longer than just a year since we first had the idea for this project until it's actually opened, so that's quite amazing.

"We're excited to be able to do this and have it ready for the current season."

The rink will be complete before the Senators play host to the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend at the end of January, though Leeder said it's not yet finalized what role the Rink of Dreams will play in those festivities.

"It could be a skating event," he said. "One thing we're talking about is a family-friendly event with all the mascots from the different (National Hockey League) teams down here. We definitely will have NHL players down here at some point and, hopefully, as part of the all-star weekend as well."

But for the most part, the Rink of Dreams exists for the community, with Leeder saying "one of our requirements is that there's a significant amount of free skating" time.

Mayor Jim Watson also indicated he expects the rink to become a major tourist attraction.

"It'll animate this part of the downtown core," he said. "It's going to be good not only for residents, but lots of tourists. We'll have all these major hotels within walking distance and this will supplement all of the great activities the (National Capital Commission) does on the (Rideau) Canal.

"This is also going to allow those thousands of visitors who come for a winter experience in Ottawa to skate on the Rink of Dreams here at city hall or the canal."

Unlike the Rideau Canal, the Rink of Dreams isn't weather dependent. It will be a 12,500-square-foot refrigerated ice surface which is maintained by a Zamboni on site. Acrylic see-through dasher boards, with special LED lighting built inside of them, provide for night skating.

About $2 million was budgeted for the design and construction of the Rink of Dreams, with the Sens Foundation and its local partners and construction companies contributing the bulk of it. The City of Ottawa earmarked $250,000 for the project, while funds raised by the Hockey Canada Foundation's gala in June taking care of the rest.

"The goal of the Hockey Canada Foundation's gala and golf tournament was to raise funds to make the Rink of Dreams a reality," said Jim Durrell, local chair of the event. "As a result of those events, more than $400,000 in funds will be directed to this very significant project.

"This is just a great example of what happens when the business community gets together with the public sector. We raised, in one night, over $700,000, which is really remarkable."

The Rink of Dreams also helps fulfills a Sens Foundation mandate to advance the cause of sport and recreation in the capital region. And that it's happening in the heart of the city is particularly significant.

"It's important because it helps our city maintain and add to the vibrancy in our downtown core," said Leeder. "It's located right down here in the centre of the city and if the city's downtown core is its heart, then the activities, people and the events that take place down here are really its soul. We hope the Rink of Dreams will really become a family place."

The rink is expected to be open for skating from November to March each winter, with it also serving as a community space through the spring and summer months.

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