There’s a new tradition at Rice Park in downtown St. Paul: on Friday nights, roller skaters turn the sidewalk into a makeshift skate-dance floor.
The group Twin Cities Skaters host the weekly skate sessions featuring a DJ and crates of free rental skates. The event draws everyone from expert skate-dancers to kids and newcomers who are lacing up for the first time.
Roller skating made a comeback during the pandemic, and there are plenty of outdoor skate meetups around the Twin Cities. But indoor rinks are few and far between. The only ones left in the metro area are in the suburbs.
A new project called Roll North is trying to change that.
Roll North would turn a defunct ice arena in north Minneapolis into a roller rink. Announcements on social media in June garnered an immediate flood of support, both online and in the community.
Eric Moran got the idea for the rink last year when he ran for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. During the campaign, he looked for a space that could be revamped for recreation — something he said north Minneapolis lacks.
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“People in this area are hungry for things to do,” Moran said. “People that live in North know that North has been neglected for so long for larger recreational activities and for spaces to go."
One of those empty buildings was the Victory Memorial Ice Arena, which closed more than ten years ago. The school board still owns the arena and uses it for storage.
Moran saw potential for more in the space. He lost his campaign for the Park board, but he’s still working on the roller rink idea.
Part of the inspiration came from the growing popularity of roller skating. Moran often sees skaters on basketball courts and park sidewalks in his neighborhood.
But outdoor skating is limited to the summer in Minnesota. Rinks have shut their doors over the years. Most recently, Roller Garden in St. Louis Park closed in May 2021.
Mahogany Plautz is a north Minneapolis resident and lifelong roller skater who’s helping Moran with the Roll North project.
She said the sport brings people together — and she pointed to the history and culture of roller skating in the Black community. She has fond memories of the different rinks she and her friends frequented in high school.
“It crosses cultures in a lot of ways,” Plautz said. “We were all skating to the same songs, we were all doing the same skating moves. There’s just a joy in it of movement and getting free.”
North Star Roller Derby has been looking for a home rink for practices since losing its regular space during the pandemic. They’re working with Moran on the project and plan to practice at Roll North once it’s up and running.
Susanne Bushman — known on the track as Black-Eyed Suzi — is a team captain and the treasurer for North Star Roller Derby.
Bushman said the league currently has a group of members that coordinate renting spaces by the hour, which proves to be a lot of work. And hour-by-hour rentals have left the team without a connection to a place.
“Having that sense of community and home in our space is a dream for us, and if we were able to find that at Roll North, it would be incredibly exciting,” Bushman said.
Bushman said the camaraderie of roller derby fits perfectly with Moran’s vision for the rink. In line with that community-oriented plan, the league is looking for ways to get involved with the local high school, like getting students involved in the sport.
“We’re often looking for ways that we can expand the sport of roller derby and give more people more opportunities to play this sport that we all really love,” Bushman said.
Moran is meeting with city council members, the school board and others in the area to plan out the project. They hope to make a more concrete pitch to the school board by the end of the year, with an opening date sometime in 2024.