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skating into the holidays in downtown jonesboro
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

For the second year in a row, the Jonesboro community will be able to enjoy ice skating in Downtown Jonesboro during the holidays thanks to First Community Bank and the Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Department.

After First Community Bank’s (FCB) donation of a synthetic ice skating rink to the City of Batesville was met with great success three years ago, the bank proposed the creation of a similar seasonal attraction in Jonesboro in conjunction with Winter Wonderland. The city jumped at the opportunity and thought the rink would fit in well in the downtown area.

“First Community Bank is based out of Batesville, Arkansas,” said Allen Williams, community president of FCB in Jonesboro. “In 2014, our Batesville branch gifted a synthetic ice skating rink to the City of Batesville for use in Batesville’s White River Wonderland. This attraction was very popular and expanded just two years later.

“After discussions with Mayor Perrin, it was decided that this would also be a good fit for Downtown Jonesboro and a way to enhance Winter Wonderland. The First Community Bank Jonesboro branch gifted the synthetic ice rink, as well as ice skates and a skate sharpener, to the City of Jonesboro at the Southwest Drive branch grand opening event, which was held on Oct. 14, 2016. Working together on community projects is at the heart of what we do.”

FCB worked with a company called SmartRink to purchase the equipment and supplies that were needed to create the 2,100-square-foot rink, then gifted those materials to the City of Jonesboro. The synthetic ice itself is German manufactured and is specialized to handle heavy traffic and still allow for easy gliding and skating. The company says its top SINTER pressed material Ice Y-Blue panels have a real ice feel and produce less glare in outside, sunny conditions. In July 2016, SmartRink did a site visit to Jonesboro and set up a demonstration and meeting with bank employees, city officials and the Parks and Recreation Department. The rink opened on Nov. 30, 2016, and saw approximately 4,000 skaters in its first season.

“Public-private partnerships are what separate great downtowns from mediocre downtowns,” said Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin. “Your government can’t provide a first-class downtown experience on sales tax dollars alone. That money has to be prioritized first toward safety, roads, picking up your garbage and doing all the things that simply make a city run. The quality of life stuff comes from the extra effort, and your city employees work extra hard to ensure we have good quality of life. Of course, I’m not afraid to ask anyone to contribute. … First Community Bank was generous and civic-minded enough to buy this simulated ice rink, and it was a smash hit last year. I am forever grateful to Allen Williams and all the folks and First Community who made it possible.”

Williams says FCB’s hope was to give the community something to enjoy that would also promote tourism and draw visitors to the area, especially to compliment the city’s existing holiday attraction, Winter Wonderland.

“With Winter Wonderland being located in Downtown Jonesboro and that area having so much to offer to our residents and visitors, it was a great choice for the First Community Bank Wonderland Rink,” said Williams. “… The rink and materials were donated to the city, so with continued support from the community, the city will be able to add to/expand the rink as well as the Winter Wonderland area in Downtown Jonesboro. Whether it’s a family trip or a school outing, we expect its popularity will only continue to grow.”

Perrin says the rink is just one of many new additions to Downtown Jonesboro that continue to enhance the experience of those who visit the area.

“Along with Winter Wonderland, it’s the beginning of a downtown Christmas experience that Jonesboro will be able to enjoy for generations to come,” said Perrin. “Our downtown experience has improved significantly over the past decade, and you can see it continue to improve with new housing and new dining and shopping coming in. Every new event we bring downtown makes Jonesboro’s quality of life a little bit better.”

Wixson Huffstetler, the director of the Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Department, says that the popularity of the rink is something the city has worked hard to make happen.

“We had a great turnout last year, and I think we’ll have even more success this year,” said Huffstetler. “The ultimate goal is to expand. All the money made at the rink from parties, concessions and rentals goes into an account for the rink. Next year, we have plans to add more Christmas lights and features and possibly expand the rink.”

Perrin says that the rink has provided a truly unique opportunity for the Jonesboro community to experience something that was not previously available because of the city’s Southern locale. His favorite part of the rink is the joy of seeing children and their parents laugh and skate.

“I encourage everyone in Jonesboro to come see what we have and to help make it bigger and better for the future,” said Perrin. “We have a loving and giving community, and I think the more we pull together, the nicer and more attractive a holiday experience we can create.”

First Community Bank Wonderland Rink, located in the parking lot along the 300 block of Union Street, is open from 4-10 p.m. on weekdays, 1-10 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays. Skate sessions are 45 minutes long and start at the top of each hour. Skates are provided with a $5 fee. Group rates for 25 participants or more are available on Sundays for $130 and up. Sunday group rentals are one-hour slots starting at 6, 7:30 and 9 p.m. School classes may also rent the rink for field trips during school hours. Call (870) 933-4604 for more information.

Winter Wonderland is open through Dec. 21. The free Christmas-themed entertainment venue for kids is located at 215 W. Monroe Ave. and will be open from 5:30-8 p.m. weekdays and 1-8 p.m. Saturdays.