The Healthy Zone Rink, as it is now known, is the result of an infusion of money from BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York through a naming rights agreement. The funds helped the privately run rink pay for a $300,000 concrete foundation, allowing it to offer more than just ice hockey from November through March.
In its fourth year of operation, the $1.4 million rink now can offer roller hockey, roller skating and community events, such as the Taste of East Aurora and car shows during the non-hockey season, said John Cimperman, vice president of Aurora Ice.
Since it opened, the rink – which was the rink used during the NHL’s 2008 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium – draws nearly 30,000 people yearly for youth, adult hockey and learn-to-skate and public skating sessions.
The health insurer is designating the rink as one of its healthy zone landmarks, promoting physical and mental health. Without sponsorship from BlueCross BlueShield, Aurora Ice said, it could not continue to improve the facility.
The five-year naming rights sponsorship follows a three-year agreement with Time Warner Cable that expired earlier this year. Neither BlueCross BlueShield nor the Aurora Ice Association would disclose how much the insurer paid for naming rights.
“This is really a new era for the rink, and with the improvements to the venue,” Cimperman said. “Now, there is an opportunity to go to 12 months, and we’re identifying a partner who helps us go there. We want to keep the rink accessible and achieve our mission. Partnerships like this help us do that.”
The name change isn’t all that is new at the rink, which in the past two years has added a pavilion-style roof and heated locker rooms. Aside from proposed recreational programming for the warmer months, plans call for summer recreational programs and other activities outside of the traditional hockey season, which runs through late March.
To that end, a concrete foundation was installed over the summer.
“We have a 200-foot-long surface with a weather-protected roof, so it can really become a hub 12 months a year for the community,” Cimperman said. “Maybe we do yoga some Saturday mornings under the roof. Bring your own mats. BlueCross BlueShield could also bring programming to the rink in the winter, as well as summer.”
The concrete foundation has increased the rink’s energy efficiency – a 30 to 40 percent increased efficiency in the power used to run the rink’s chillers – and that already has made for better ice, Cimperman said.
“It’s something people don’t see, but we see the efficiencies,” he said, noting that without the concrete pad, it took five to six days to make ice. “Now, we make ice in two days.”
“It was up to 75 degrees recently, and the ice held,” he said. “Without the concrete foundation, we’d still be trying to freeze the sand and ground. Now we focus on freezing the ice above, instead of downward.”
Cimperman said the partnership with BlueCross BlueShield is a perfect fit because the insurer is focused on being active and healthy.
“That’s very consistent with the mission for the rink and the ice association,” he said. “This investment with BlueCross BlueShield gives us the ability to look at further improvements. The next capital improvement is to have a lodge adjacent to the rink to house areas for groups, skate rentals, locker facilities and a fireplace.”
New signs already are in place at the rink and will be added to the Zamboni and marketing materials. The rink is open for the season.
BlueCross BlueShield members who attend family skates at the rink and present their insurance cards will receive an admission discount for each family member.