Home Events + News Jersey City Commits to Repair Pershing Rink by Fall 2024

Jersey City Commits to Repair Pershing Rink by Fall 2024

by Stephanie Spear
Attain Medspa
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After two hockey seasons ruined by faulty equipment, the Jersey City Capitals and other users of the Pershing Field Ice Rink can get back on the ice in fall 2024. A proposal from the Jersey City Council was approved on first reading this week to allocate the funding necessary to repair the rink’s defunct equipment. Read on for more about the problems at the rink, and what skaters can expect for the upcoming hockey season.

pershing ice rink jc

Spring 2024 Update

The Jersey City Council approved the first reading of a proposal to allocate $50 million to various improvements around the City, including Pershing Field. Public comment and a second reading will be held on the proposal at the City Council’s next meeting, on May 22nd.

The relevant text of the proposal, Ord. 24-035, is as follows: “building improvements to… City owned property, including … and Pershing Field facility repairs,”. Jersey City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione tells HG that “At the community’s request, a portion of those funds are earmarked for near- and long-term solutions to fix the failing ice rink equipment. We are committed to having the ice rink open this winter. It’s a complicated fix but it will be open.”

The Jersey City Capitals, the youth hockey organization that has been active in lobbying for facility repairs, shared the following statement: “The entire Capitals organization would like to thank Jersey City, the Business Administration and the City Council for their continued work on this critical project. When the rink closed in 2023 it forced the entire organization into a nomadic experience that caused numerous issues. Though we are appreciative of the other clubs and rinks we played at since 2023, we are excited to get back on the ice in our home rink, the Charlie Heger Ice Skating Rink at Pershing Field, in the fall of 2024. The City Council and Business Administration have been tremendous partners during this process and we look forward to a fruitful partnership as we continue to provide services to the entire Jersey City community.” Mike Mariniello, President of the Jersey City Capitals.

About the Rink

Pershing Field Memorial Park opened in 1922 and was dedicated a year later to commemorate and honor soldiers lost during World War I who had called Jersey City home. Today, Pershing Field has many more memorials dedicated to members of the armed forces who lost their lives in subsequent military activity. Pershing Field Memorial Park is roughly 13.5 acres and one of the largest of Jersey City’s parks, in which there are plenty (40+). The park’s name honors World War I hero, General John J. Pershing.

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As you enter the park from Summit Avenue, you will see a large arch of red sandstone, which are the remains of an armory that previously stood at Montgomery Street and Bergen Avenue. The armory was destroyed in 1927, but the arch was salvaged and rebuilt in 1941 at Pershing Field. It was later named a Jersey City historical site.

You’ll easily find an 8-foot tall bronze memorial statue known as America Triumphant by James Novelli, which was placed in the park on its opening day, July 4th, 1922. It was decided the land, which was previously used as a military training ground for World War I, would become a park as the growing population post-war needed community space for recreation and leisure.

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The ice rink was renamed in 2010 to honor Charlie Heger, a longtime coach and leader for Jersey City youth hockey.

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Background from January 2024

The Hoboken Girl reached out to both the City of Jersey City and Yusuf Saleh, the councilman for Ward D, where the rink is located. We will update this story if necessary.

The outdoor rink, located at 807 Summit Avenue, is home to the Jersey City Capitals youth league. It is also home to teams from Hudson Catholic High School Hockey, Hoboken High School and Weehawken High School teams, St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City, a squad sponsored by New Jersey Youth Hockey and the Jersey City Police Department and Jersey City Fire Department hockey teams.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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After several temporary closures during the winter 2022-2023 season, The rink was closed for good in February 2023 for repairs. At the time, the City indicated that work would be complete in time for the winter 2023-2024 season. The closure created confusion for local sports leagues that use the rink, including local high school teams. Many had to scramble to find other rinks with availability.

The facility’s aging infrastructure was to blame. The rink’s refrigeration and chilling system failed after 30 years of use, and it would take over a half million dollars to do repairs that weren’t guaranteed to work, according to city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione via an NJ.com article.

At the time, residents set up an online petition to get more information from the City and generally push back against the closure. The petition gained 1,600 signatures and was described as a success by organizers based on a meeting they had with city officials.

However, by fall of 2023 the rink was still closed despite a $1 million allocation from the City for repairs. While youth hockey leagues had more notice of the closure, the logistics of setting up practices and games created new challenges and increased operating costs.

Now, supporters are told that the rink will not be reopened until a new chilling system can be installed, which will cost upwards of $5 million.

 

In early 2024, there was no new information about the rink repairs, timeline, or cost.

Mike Mariniello is a Hoboken father and volunteer who is essentially the commissioner of the Jersey City Capitals, the non-profit youth hockey league that has traditionally been headquartered at Pershing Field’s rink. His children joined the league in 2013 and while Mike started as a volunteer, he took on the role of Master Scheduler in 2016. “About five years ago, Charlie Heger moved away from Jersey City to Tom’s River so I took over all of the administrative aspects of the league,” Mike said. This included negotiating with the City to get access to the rink.

Mike says that despite the rink’s popularity, the ice conditions have been inconsistent. “Over the last couple of years, things have been falling apart. the ability to make ice isn’t there, or it hasn’t been managed well, hard to tell,” he said. “Especially during warm, or wet weather, would have issues where the ice wouldn’t hold. It would be soft, have holes, and be mushy. That has been going on for the last couple of years.”

The winter 2022-2023 season was challenging, he said. Even though the rink was up and running in time to start the season, frequent closures and quality issues with the ice persisted. Then, the rink was shut for the season in early 2023, with no warning. “I had to disconnect [from the chaos] and focus on the players,” he said. “There were too many practices and games to reschedule.”

Mike had to pivot and reschedule nearly 100 games and dozens of practices for the remainder of the season. Finding ice time so late in the season was a big challenge, and it meant that events were scheduled at rinks all over North Jersey, including as far away as Morris County.

This season started much like last season’s ended: with the league’s practices and games spread out throughout North Jersey. “A lot of people within the hockey community have been very good to us in terms of giving us a place to play. they realize that it’s not ideal, but people have been willing to help us,” Mike said. “Nothing is telling THEM that they have to accommodate us. People have been helpful in trying to bridge the gap.”

According to Mike, to this day, there has been barely any communication from the City to the league about what is going on with the rink. “It’s been hugely disruptive,” he said. League parents and other volunteers have tried to get information from the City, leveraging personal contacts and other methods. Still, no clear picture has emerged about what’s next for the rink.

Capitals parent Will Looker echoed many of Mike’s sentiments, describing what he observes as a material change in the youth hockey experience. The rink’s convenient location and youth hockey programming for children as young as 5 years old made it an easy choice for local families. “Hockey is kind of a cult sport. We all love it. It becomes a real part of your life,” he said. “Half the games home, half are away,” meaning the rink’s location and accessibility are incredibly important for players and families.

Before its closure, both Will and Mike said that the rink was a hive of activity during the season, with practices and games throughout the week and all day on the weekends. Now, families have to drive elsewhere for practices and games, and the natural camaraderie is lost. “All of the other clubs in the area have practices 530PM, 6PM, 630PM,” Will said. “You can’t get to Montclair for a 6PM practice. This has caused havoc. [Elementary school-aged] children aren’t getting home till past 9PM, which is too late. Parents are driving in rush hour. With only once-a-week practice, it’s not enough to be competitive. Then every single game is essentially an away game. Some are in Bayonne, some in Secaucus, but there’s no ‘home’ ice.”

Mike shared his thoughts about the future of the league. “The experience is so deeply changed by not having the rink. Hockey people are a different breed: they get up early, drive far away, and you’re still going to have people who are into it,” he said. “But, there are new families or other people who can’t do that. The moment another layer of challenge is added it makes it harder for people to join.”

Will said, “I’m not sure that the club will survive another season because of this.” Mike said that he’s already observed a decrease in participation with the league’s beginner clinic. “We offer a Learn to Play clinic for kids ages 5-9. It’s how kids first learn how to play hockey. They come in and there’s some skating, stick handling, it’s the way we build our program,” he said. “When I first started doing this, there were maybe 20 -30 kids in a class, two days a week with practice on Saturday and Sunday from November to March. That’s how they learn to play and then join a team the next season. there were 50 kids per class two years later. The last time we had a full season out of Pershing Field there were 65 kids signed up. This year we have maybe 22, 23. And usually, 17-18 kids show up. This is how kids enter the program and now we’ve lost that. It’s too random now, with times and locations, it’s difficult for parents.”

Supporters have set up a Facebook page to share information and organize public events regarding the rink.

The Jersey City Department of Recreation still has ice rink field trip forms available for local schools to organize outings. Elsewhere on its site, the department has acknowledged the closure of the rink, with the following statement on its website for the rink:

“The Department of Recreation and Youth Development is excited to announce a special offer for the community in light of the temporary closure of the Charlie Heger Ice Rink for the 2023-2024 season. To make up for the inconvenience, the Department of Recreation and Youth Development will be offering discounted passes for families to enjoy ice skating at Newport Skate. These passes will be available for purchase first come first serve at Pershing Field Pool starting 1/2/2024 from 12 pm and 4:30 pm Monday to Saturday. Each family can purchase up to 5 passes, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to partake in this winter recreation activity. Don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity to create lasting memories on the ice with family and friends at an affordable cost of $7 per pass (admission and skate rental included).

Tickets available for purchase at:
Pershing Field Pool
201 Central Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07304
201. 547. 6886”

See More: The Best Ice Skating Rinks in New Jersey + New York City

The Fix Pershing Field Now! Facebook page is equal parts hopeful and frustrating: it’s great to see so many engaged residents trying to solve a problem, but it was hard to see how much pushback they’re getting from the City. Screenshots of emails sent to local officials fill the page, the email responses are different versions of ‘we’re working on it’. Parents try to get meetings with officials and are refused.

It would seem no one can articulate exactly what’s wrong with the rink, how much it would cost to fix, what other options are, who is in charge of the rink, and how things got to be so bad. Theories abound: letting the rink go to rot would open the park up for commercialization, or the City wants to build something akin to Weehawken’s pool but state money is needed.

What we do know: the aging infrastructure of the rink’s cooling mechanism has given out. Were there warnings? Are there temporary fixes? Perhaps. Mike Mariniello said that the rink in Bayonne, which is of the same era as the Pershing rink, had a similar problem happen in August 2023 and it was back online in a month. “That is another municipally run rink,” he said.

Will Looker questions how the situation got to be so dire. “If you go to any random ice rink – people are using it for ice skating, hockey leagues, all kinds of stuff from 6AM to midnight. Organizations are constantly booking hourly ice time. They’re in and out all the time, and it costs hundreds of dollars per hour. That’s what Pershing was like,” he said. “It was heavily used. So what happened with all of that revenue? why isn’t it self-sustaining? There’s no reason for it. It can be an asset that pays for its operating costs and generates enough for capital reserves. It’s the only ice rink in Jersey City. There are only a few in Hudson County so there’s a lot of demand.”

“Overwhelmingly, I feel like the city is willing to let the rink die. They don’t really care about it. ” Mike says.

Hockey fans and supporters attended the Jersey City Council meeting on Wednesday, January 24th. According to the Jersey City Times, they met with Lucinda McLaughlin, director of the city Department of Recreation and Youth Development to learn more about a $1 million grant the City has received to fix the rink. According to the the Facebook group, supporters asked for:

  • The Department of Recreation + Youth Development and Mayor Fulop to publicly post a concrete action plan to reopen Pershing Field Park Ice Rink, including full plans for the repairs/renovations, timeline for the project, budget, and any obstacles for reopening the rink. The plan needs to be updated monthly to show progress.
  • A public commitment from the Department of Recreation + Youth Development, Mayor Fulop, and City Council to fix Pershing Field Park Ice Rink before next season, fall 2024.
  • Oversight + partnership! Formation of an oversight committee including Jersey City officials and community members to ensure the project moves forward with urgency and transparency. The committee would meet regularly and would include representation from key stakeholders including local hockey clubs, etc.

Nearby Secaucus completed a major renovation of its rink in 2014. According to NJ.com, the project cost $2.1 million and included a complete overhaul of the facility’s chiller system and the board around the rink. The Secaucus rink is also an outdoor, covered rink like the Heger rink.

Background from the January 2024 Meeting

While many hockey supporters of all ages visited Jersey City Hall to present their case to the City Council, no commitments were made. According to the Hudson County View, Jersey City Business Administrator John Metro said that the city would be open to undertaking a feasibility study for the rink. The council will consider that expenditure at its meeting next month. Several youth hockey players and their parents took to the dias to share what it’s been like without a home rink.

Youth Hockey Players at Jersey City Hall

Photo courtesy of Lisa Staryak

For those who are interested in recreational skating in the area, check out our list of local ice rinks.

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