The iconic ice rink at The Galleria, closed since May for a $1 million renovation project, is expected to reopen next week. And when it does, Houston-area visitors are likely to find smoother skating as they take a break from a prolonged summer heat wave.
Decades of largely continuous use caused the soil beneath to rink to freeze and expand, thereby pushing up the ice in spots and causing an uneven surface, according to Brad Berman, the president of American Sports Entertainment Company, which operates the rink as a tenant of the mall. He said the problem materialized about five years ago, and a planned renovation was delayed until this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Berman said his company had been creating extra ice to fill in low spots, which proved costly. The new system being installed will be more energy efficient, he said, and also should result in a thinner, better-quality sheet of ice.
"We're just happy to finally get it done and can't wait to reopen (July 10)," Berman said Monday. "It's a neat place to skate, just being in the middle of the mall and having that skylight over you."
The ice rink, installed in 1970, is one of a few in the Houston area that typically operates year-round. It sees nearly 700,000 skaters annually, according to Berman, who said about 150,000 visit during the months of November and December, when a large Christmas tree is erected from the center of the rink.
The half-century-old rink has undergone repairs and upgrades in the past but never been entirely overhauled until now, said Kathi Singleton, who works for American Sports Entertainment Company and serves as the executive director of The Galleria facility. The company owns or operates several ice-skating and hockey rinks around the country, including for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings, Berman said.
"This is the first time we have taken the ice out completely to the floor and rebuilt it from the floor up," Singleton said.
Berman said his company took on the renovation project as part of an agreement with Simon Property Group, which serves as the landlord for The Galleria tenants, because American Sports Entertainment Company is extending its 10-year lease at the mall. The approximately $1 million initiative also includes the purchase of a new ice resurfacing machine, new rubber flooring outside the rink and refurbished restrooms and changing areas, Berman said.
As for the ice rink overhaul, Berman said the ice and concrete underneath were removed to expose the soil underneath and allow it to thaw, thereby creating a warm sub-floor. Multiple layers of insulation and vapor barriers were then installed, followed by a series of black pipes that can carry cold liquid across the rink, resulting in a separation between warm and cold surfaces.
"Modern rinks all have sub-floor heat systems," said Berman, whose companies have managed the rink at The Galleria since 2003. "This rink is so old that it didn't have one. We're now turning what was initially a cold floor into a warm floor."
The next step is to pour sand over the pipes, Berman said, to create a new base for the ice rink. Then water will be applied and, when it's frozen enough, the surface will be painted white. Then more water will be applied to create a full sheet of ice, Berman said.
He also said the wooden boards surrounding the rink were moldy and rotted and are being replaced by steel boards.
The cost to skate at the Galleria, which Berman said is $18 for adults and $15 for children, will not increase as a result of the renovation. The facility also hosts group events, camps and skating lessons.
"There won't be a big jump just because we did this," Berman said.