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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)
CHRISTIANSBURG — Town officials are taking a page out of Roanoke 's playbook as they look for ways to draw more visitors to downtown.
During a committee meeting this past week to discuss downtown improvements, Christiansburg senior staff told some town council members that they are looking at the possibility of temporarily shutting down Hickok Street and installing an outdoor ice skating rink during the winter months.
"It might be a crazy idea, but I think it would be something kind of neat," said interim Town Manager Randy Wingfield.
Referring to Roanoke's outdoor rink at Elmwood Park, Councilman Henry Showalter followed Wingfield's comment with: "That's been very popular, even when it was really cold last year."
Although there are several hurdles to address — one being the cooperation of surrounding property owners — town officials are enthusiastic about the idea of an outdoor rink downtown. They said it would by far be the nearest for New River Valley residents after Roanoke's.
"The ice skating rink is an extremely new idea, but a possibility staff is excited about exploring," town spokeswoman Melissa Powell wrote in an email. "As we began discussing the closure of Hickok Street and the types of events and activities we could host there, the possibility of an ice skating rink was discussed as a way to encourage residents to come downtown during the winter."
Among the issues the town would need to address are insurance, maintenance and logistics, Powell said.
Another reason the town became attracted to the possibility was the availability of several different rink sizes at low costs, Powell said.
For example, the town found a 30-feet-by-60-feet rink for just under $4,000, which Powell described as affordable and something that could be bought using the town's general fund.
Wingfield told town council that he plans to speak with adjacent property owners to see if they would support and work with the town regarding changes to Hickok.
Those proposed changes aren't all tied to the rink, as town officials have discussed turning the street into a permanent pedestrian mall and making additions such as new park benches, an archway at Hickok's entrance, a temporary stage and even string lights to create a more festive atmosphere.
Making downtown more vibrant has been a top priority of Christiansburg government for years. That part of town was not too long ago plagued with vacancies and has seen some trouble with keeping businesses on a long-term basis.
The Christiansburg Farmers Market was launched in 2015 and has been used as a vehicle for re-breathing life into downtown.
From May to October, the Farmers Market, which sets up on Hickok, closes the street to vehicular traffic every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
"It would not only create a space for our Farmers Market each Thursday and raise the visibility of that seasonal event, but it would also be an area for events and activities year-round," she wrote about improvements to Hickok.
Talks of turning Hickok into a pedestrian mall have explored the possibility of installing removable delineators at the street's intersections with West Main and Commerce streets so that vehicles — including emergency vehicles and Farmers Market vendors — could still enter Commerce and the parking lot in that area.
There has also been a suggestion to permanently close one lane of Hickok, thereby turning it into a one-way street.
"It will be interesting to see how that works for Hickok Street," Downtown Christiansburg Inc. President David Franusich said about the potential improvements.
"In itself the idea is great, especially since we have the Farmers Market there right in the center of West Main Street. It could really end up being a new town square almost, if it's done right."
Franusich voiced backing for an ice skating rink, too.
"I think that will be a great idea," he said. "Right now, we don't have a large variety of shops or anything.
"If you can bring people downtown in any way, it's fantastic. There's nothing like that in the New River Valley."
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