What's Wrong with This Picture?

$74 million & No Benches. This is one side of the story.

When it opened last winter, the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Prospect Park, Brooklyn was plagued by a series of well-documented ice-related issues, problems that reminded many of the ancient Kate Wollman rink, torn down to make way for this new two-rink replacement, and notorious for scattered pylons warning of nasty patches to be avoided. Getting the ice right at a new rink, particularly one where the sun plays a role, is a work-in-progress, but what has gone relatively undiscussed is the fact that the hockey rink was designed without a rather necessary element for actual games tobe played: benches. Unlike bad ice, this was the result of bad decision-making and not so easily remedied. 

Finger-pointing is not the mission here but what’s clear is that what has been designed and constructed is not a hockey rink, but the illusion of one. The architects clearly had little knowledge or interest or even a bit of curiosity about hockey when they took on the gig. Granted, their intent was to create an aesthetically pleasing structure, which they have done, but in the process, they ignored the challenge simply because they deemed it irrelevant. 

Though it may seem a minor detail to the non-hockey world, benches are not a negotiable item. Nor is glass, which apparently was also on the “not necessary” list, until presumably someone brought a puck to the meeting and passed it around.  

Even the dimensions of the rink were treated as incidental. The head of the Prospect Park Alliance at the time, and by all accounts a solid citizen, was about to sign off on a dangerously narrow rink, until she was urged to call her brother who, at 67, was a regular player in their home state of Minnesota. “You’re crazy,” he informed her and the rink’s width was “expanded” to the regulation eighty-five feet, though the two hundred foot length remains compromised because of a tree. Listen, you put a rink in a park, you’re going to run into a few trees. And it’s fine if a rink isn’t technically “regulation.” Back in the day, rinks, like baseball fields, were notorious for variation. The Bruins, more boxers than skaters, wanted a small surface, where the hardest work would be done in the corners. The Canadiens, on the other hand, wanted space; space to fly.

While many have voiced their displeasure with the long lines and expensive lockers, let’s remember that New York assumes a price tag and a hassle. The travesty here is that little concern about the actual playing of hockey entered into the design, which leads to a more cynical possibility: The rink was designed so games would not be played. After all, who wants a swarm of amped-up kids in sweaty equipment running around with their sticks flailing as others are waiting on line at the adjacent Bluestone cafe to get their Parmesan Truffle fries. (Heads up, you have to remove your skates to eat.) Maybe some numbers were crunched and it was decided that more revenue would be generated from food than from leagues of folks playing hockey. Fair enough, but the task at hand was to build a hockey rink. And as one “commenter” on Yelp put it, “The old [rink] was lovely and it had parking. It could have used modest upgrading. Ice is ice, a hot dog is a hot dog.”             — EG


Rumor has it that an attempt is being made to raise the funds to install benches. The saga continues...