GREEN BAY – The weather was quirky when it wasn't downright hostile, the park was new and the Green Bay Packers had no experience making snow and ice, but all-in-all they are pleased with the first winter season at the Titletown District.
The Packers estimate more than 60,000 people used the park from late November to mid-March. The number has no context now, being the first time the park was used, but it sets the baseline for following seasons.
"It was a huge learning experience. We were happy with the people that came out and we got a lot of good feedback," said Jackie Krutz, Titletown programs and events manager.
The Packers opened the Titletown District skating pond on Nov. 30 and Airens Hill snow-tubing began on Dec. 21.
Titletown District is a nearly 45-acre development immediately west of Lambeau Field. Its anchors include Lodge Kohler hotel, Hinterland Brewery and Bellin Health Titletown Sports Medicine and Orthopedics clinic.
The 10-acre park and plaza consists of the plaza, adjacent to South Ridge Road; an activity strip that includes areas for horseshoes, shuffleboard, bocce, table tennis, bean-bag toss and other activities; playgrounds for three age groups; a 40-yard dash course with a timer; the snow-tubing hill and ice-skating pond and trail, and full-sized football field.
The playgrounds were closed when covered with ice and snow, but are now open.
The Green Bay Packers opened Ariens Hill for sledding on Dec. 21 Wochit
There were a number of days during the winter when the snow hill, the ice rink or both were closed because of weather, usually because it was too cold but also when it wasn't cold enough. Even when it remained opened, weather had to be accommodated.
"Even on a cold day, if the sun's out, that ice is taking a beating," said Charlie Millerwise, director of development and hospitality.
Millerwise, who was hired by the Packers earlier this year, had previously directed operations of Packers concessionaire Delaware North. His experience was in making food, not snow. He said this winter was the strangest of the six he has lived in Green Bay, but it exposed park operations to most conceivable scenarios.
"We learned a lot about making snow," he said. "For example, you've got a nice strong north wind, we start to make snow and next thing you know it's snowing in Lodge Kohler's parking lot."
The hotel is immediately south of Ariens Hill.
In between the strange weather, there were magical nights, Millerwise said. They included at least a dozen marriage proposals on the ice.
"No one said no, I'm told," he said.
The Packers avoided programming events this winter while they learned the ebb and flow of the park. That likely will change next winter, as it certainly will this summer, when there will be daily events.
"I think there will be some (programming) next winter, whether it be curling lessons or skating lessons or whatever it might be," Krutz said.
The Packers acknowledge that prices for tubing, in particular, were a complaint that seemed to most often come up. They said their prices were on par with other tubing hills, but they did tweak them throughout the season.
Gift certificates were popular and there were requests for season passes, which were not available this year.
"You have a limited amount of times you can get down the hill in an hour, from a safety standpoint," Millwerwise said. "We found that more people were buying single-ride tickets than unlimited-ride tickets. I think that piece will change next year. We know the flow now."
Krutz said Monday community days, which offered large discounts, proved popular.
"They made Monday nights seem like Saturdays," she said.
A 3D laser light show projected onto the west exterior of Lambeau Field also was a hit and will return next year with a new theme. Millerwise said the seven-minute show, played every half-hour on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights throughout the Christmas season, helped nearby businesses, including Hinterland Brewery and the restaurants at Lodge Kohler.
Free movies at Rockwood Terrace, on the second level of Ariens Hill, got off to a slow start, but were drawing better crowds by the time they wrapped up in early March.
Titletown is shifting into its spring/summer programming now.
Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. are free game nights at 46 Below cafe, featuring Jenga, Monopoly, Catan and Ticket to Ride, among others.
Kubb, a Swedish lawn game, is available on Fridays. Art carts will be out from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sundays, and near the end of April, Titletown will host Campfire Fridays at the fire pit, which will include entertainment and s'mores kits.
Krutz said the park will have daily programming through the summer, often with several events each day, the majority of them free. A kickoff will be held June 2.
Millerwise predicts the park will be a popular wedding venue, as Lambeau Field already is, but that probably will be less evident this year because of how far ahead wedding planners schedule. The Packers scheduled a Brides & Bubbly bridal show for May 17.
Krutz said creating broader awareness of the district and its free programs will be a focus of their efforts during the coming year.
Titletown District schedules and events are online at Titletown.org.