Many may see Bryant Park as a perfect midtown oasis spot to take a break, a place where you’ll fi nd everyone from moms with babies, businesspeople on a break from the offi ce and parkgoers engaging in a chess battle, but this park wasn’t always the urban oasis it is today. “It used to be dangerous here,” says Irene Vagianos, director of brand partnerships and events for Bryant Park Corporation.
Fast-forward nearly three decades later and Bryant Park is a shining example of urban renewal done right, and the Bank of America Winter Village is a force behind that. While 2017 marks the 16th year of the Winter Village, Vagianos and her team decided to take the project in-house two years ago. “We saw the potential to make it even better, so we chose to bring in experts in three different areas—ice rinks, the holiday market and popup dining,” she says. Armed with a sleigh full of ideas, Vagianos and her partners: Arena Americas, which built the temporary restaurant and Overlook (both available for private events), Rink Management Services Corporation, Union Square Hospitality Group and Urban Space, which curated the 150 shops, got to work.
If pulling together a holiday event seems like a snap, consider the challenges. First, there’s the time … or lack thereof. “From the first truck’s arrival to opening day, the whole village was built in less than three weeks,” says Vagianos. As for trucks, there were 58 tractor trailers loaded with equipment for the build. Imagine coordinating that in midtown Manhattan (it was done at night)! In addition to the temporary structures, plumbing and electrical had to be run to support the buildings, and refrigeration was necessary for the ice rink. The limited space of the park’s footprint eliminated unloading or storage space. Perhaps most importantly, there is what lies beneath, namely New York Public Library’s stacks, as well as subway lines. “Weight was an obvious issue, so we had to be sure that everything was built to avoid any impact. We also had to build a deck to contain the ice rink,” says Matt Holt, vice president commercial operations, Arena Americas.
The Winter Village, which runs from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day from Oct. 28 to Jan. 2 (the rink and restaurant remain open until March 4), may appear to be an insurmountable task, but once up, it operates seamlessly. From the elevation of the food with the arrival of Danny Meyer’s pop-up restaurant to the reorientation of the rink (changing the traffic pattern in the park), every detail has been considered. “It was a game changer when we reoriented the rink,” says Tom Hillgrove, president of Rink Management Services Corporation. While his company operates 33 rinks across the country, Bryant Park is one of his favorites. “We were able to devise a system that reduced waiting lines because nobody likes waiting in line,” he says. The system not only eliminates waiting in line but is a boon to shops and kiosks. “People get their wristband and then go eat, shop, anything but stand in line, since we buzz them when their ice time is ready.” A few other game changers of the Bryant Park rink? Ice time is free (lessons and rentals are available for a fee) and there is no time limit. “You could skate all day,” says Hillgrove. Also different is the size. “This rink is twice as large as Rockefeller Center,” he says. Bryant Park’s intention was to create a holiday event that would be a cherished tradition, so from brand-new skate rentals (“the best skates in the business,” says Hillgrove) to a professional skating school, efforts were made to create an inviting space.
The efforts appear to have paid off considerably, as they saw a 20 percent increase in attendance the first year. “Whether they’re not seeing an intimidating line, know that they can find great artisan gifts they can’t find anywhere else, have a delicious snack or an enjoyable skate in the middle of Manhattan, they’re coming back,” says Hillgrove. Vagianos echoes his sentiment, sharing, “it’s a real mix of tourists and locals. We get people who come to skate before they go to work, locals, tourists. We even get love letters,” she says.
Sounds like a few people will be on the nice list for years to come.