94th-floor Hancock ice rink to open

A "Go Sox" banner hangs between the television antennas on top of the Hancock Tower on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 1993. (AP Photo/ Fred Jewell)

September 9, 2010 5:16:05 PM PDT
Chicagoans and visitors to the city will be able to skate on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center where a synthetic ice rink has been installed on the observatory floor.

While that is something to marvel at, so is the technology that allows a skating surface to perform without ice.

The rink is Chicago's newest skyborne attraction at a 1,000 square feet in the air.

But collisions ought to be expected.

In a tough economy, even stalwarts of the skyline have to ensure they're fresh and innovative to attract paying customers. At the John Hancock building, they've installed 'xtraice,' a polymer-based substance infused with water-based silicone gel that mimics ice People can go for a twirl as they whirl at the view.

"When they approached me about this I thought, are you nuts?" said Al Stensrud, Sports Surfaces.

The bread board-like surface leaves far fewer plastic shavings than many other synthetic skating surfaces. Stensrud says the Spanish product's embedded silicone rises to the surface over time, filling cuts and healing itself unlike ice which has to be resurfaced on the hour. Low cost and high innovation sold the Hancock.

"Our dwelling time has increased up here from 25 to 45 minutes at this level so our customers are wanting to spend more time here, they're looking for new experiences and that's what this is about," said Daniel Thomas, John Hancock Observatory manager.

Thomas is hosting the world's Tall Towers conference this week. Those that manage the global icons are in the entertainment business and a skating rink in the sky is just the latest.

"You have to continue to reinvent yourself when you're in the tall tower business. You don't want to get stale, you want to add new things, you want to give people another reason to visit," said Jack Robinson, CN Tower, Toronto.

That's especially true when you operate in a city where there's a similar attraction just down the street.

"The experience is something we can really establish a point of difference in this market," said Thomas.


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