Terrence Clarke has had the vision of turning Red Arrow Park into a roller skating rink for many years.
The rink, installed at 920 N. Water St. in 1999, currently operates as the Slice of Ice rink for about four months of the year. Clarke — who runs a roller skating business called Roll Train with partner Ellen Fine — wants to activate the space as a community roller rink during the spring, summer, and fall months.
“It’s in the center of our city and it’s empty most months of the year,” says Clarke. “We’re trying to create an atmosphere of healthy activity downtown, with scheduled sessions, themed sessions that everyone — kids, downtown workers — can attend.”
Recently, borough leaders agreed that this was a good idea and something beneficial for Milwaukee. In May, the Parks Department will submit a report to the Parks Committee.
“This is a really positive, healthy and much-needed activity for Milwaukee County that can do something good for children, adults and families,” says 4th Circuit Supervisor Ryan Clancy. “Dollars are hard to find, but I know this has broad public support and it’s our job as regulators to elevate the public space.”
In 2009, the Red Arrow rink briefly became a roller skating area, but the program was short-lived.
Clarke and Fine have attempted to revive roller skating at Red Arrow Park, but have been turned down on multiple occasions because park officials feared roller skating would damage the rink’s surface or the pipes underneath that keep the ice frozen.
Clarke contacted the company that made the rink, Commercial Refrigeration Services in Virginia, Minnesota, and asked if it was safe for roller skates. He received a written reply that this was indeed the case.
“The concrete surface on ice rink floors is very durable and can be used for various dry floor activities,” said the email, sent by company representative Vicky Merten. “In our experience, the concrete surface withstands this activity very well.”
Merten also wrote that they have installed numerous ice rinks similar to that at Red Arrow Park that have served as both a roller skating and ice rink for many years, including the Guidant John Rose Oval in Roseville, Minnesota; Olympic Center in Lake Placid, NY; and the St. Louis Park Outdoor Recreation Center in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Roller skating has never gone out of style, but has seen a resurgence of mainstream popularity during the pandemic.
In 2021, The Monroe Street Midway, a new attraction featuring an open-air roller coaster, athletic fields, art, music and food trucks, opened in downtown Detroit. The rink is operated by Rollercade, the oldest black-owned rink in the country.
San Francisco has opened an outdoor roller rink in Golden Gate Park, and this summer Rockefeller Center will use its space for roller skating for the first time since 1940.
“It makes no sense. If the rink builders say the surface is safe for roller skating and we’ve seen this in several other cities, why not Milwaukee? We’re the city of festivals and in our busiest time of the year, no one is in the middle of the city,” says Fine.
If the plan for a Red Arrow rink is approved, Clarke and Fine hope to be involved in the programming. Together they have 50 years of indoor and outdoor roller skating experience. Aside from Roll Train, Clarke also runs skate groups at McKinley Park called “Skate @ the Lake”.
“The rink isn’t just for skaters,” says Fine. “She’s for Milwaukee.”
Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for more information on a Red Arrow skating rink when it becomes available.