A Hub of Activity
The Plaza at Gateway Park brings new dimension to downtown Neenah
by Tim Froberg
The best way to combat Wisconsin’s cold winter is to find a hot spot. The Plaza at Gateway Park fits that description.
The recently constructed facility in downtown Neenah is the area’s newest outdoor entertainment center. It’s starting its third month of operation and is expected to be a big hit with families looking for recreational opportunities during the winter months.
But what’s intriguing about The Plaza is that it’s not just a winter hangout. It’s projected as a year-round venue to be used during the warmer months for events such as small concerts, exercise classes, art fairs, outdoor movies, and food and wine festivals. The Plaza’s coffee house, Globe Coffee in the Manor Haus, operates year-round, serving coffee, hot cocoa, and smoothies, along with light snacks like paninis, bagels, s’mores, and cheese fondue.
“Our goal is for it to be a family-friendly place where people can come year-round to connect with friends and family in an outdoor setting,” said Lizzy Bergstrom-Auth, director of The Plaza at Gateway Park. “It’s more than just a skating rink. People can do things like loop the lake and then stop by and have a coffee and visit with friends.”
Ice skating, though, is clearly the main attraction during winter months which are expected to be The Plaza’s busiest time of the year. The rink is 122 feet long and 59 feet wide – the same dimensions as the iconic ice rink at New York’s Rockefeller Center – and is expected to operate until mid-March. A minimum temperature of 50 degrees is required to maintain the ice.
A daily skating pass is $5 for children and $8 for adults, or $35 for a family of four (including rentals). Skate rentals (more than 600) are available for $5 at the facility’s Ice Haus, which contains a Zamboni ice resurfacing vehicle. The Plaza is open to the public six days a week, except for Wednesdays when it’s available for private parties.
Visitors don’t need to skate to have fun at The Plaza. Many are content to just hang out at the gas fire pits where they can enjoy a hot drink and a s’more or two.
“People love the fire pits,” Bergstrom-Auth said. “They feel like they’re on a vacation at a Swiss chalet or in Colorado. We have a lot of people who just drop by to watch the skating and maybe have some coffee or hot cocoa.”
The Plaza has been busy since its grand opening Oct. 28 and it’s expected to become a staple in the downtown Neenah area. Special events such as Santa at the Plaza – which was part of A Very Neenah Christmas, Skating with Santa, and Ugly Christmas Sweater Night – were part of the December fun.
“People come in and say they feel like they’re in a Christmas movie,” Bergstrom-Auth said. “That’s a really nice compliment. Families are always looking for something new to try and coming to The Plaza is the new fun thing to do right now.”
The Plaza was inspired by New York’s Rockefeller Center and features a duplicate granite statue of John D. Rockefeller Jr. It also honors Native American history with bronze sculptures of Chief Washakie and Chief Black Elk, which overlook the main fireplace.
Miron Construction was the primary architect for The Plaza project which was funded by donations from about 50 individuals, families, and companies, and spearheaded by John Bergstrom, chairman and CEO of Bergstrom Automotive.
“We’re extremely grateful to the city of Neenah and all of our generous donors,” Bergstrom-Auth said. “It’s been a really neat experience to see this come to fruition and to see people down here enjoying this.”
THE PLAZA AT GATEWAY PARK SCHEDULE
Monday, Tuesday: 4-7 p.m.
Thursdays: 4-8 p.m.
Fridays: 4-9 p.m.
Saturdays: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sundays: 11 am.-6 p.m.