Plans for Australian first show at Icehouse

Plans for Australian first show at Icehouse
David Schout

Docklands could soon be home to an Australian-first light and sound show on ice, in what would become a significant attraction for the area.

The O’Brien Icehouse is exploring a multi-million-dollar investment into the show which would see 3D images projected onto the ice, similar to those seen in Europe and North America.

The show would be powered by specialist projectors that create optical illusions on ice, which acts as an ideal projection surface.

They could also provide an immersive skating experience for the public.

O’Brien Icehouse executive director Athol Hodgetts told Docklands News that the project, which would be decided in coming months, was “exciting”.

“We’re always looking at ways of improving the venue, and the experience people have when they come,” he said.

“It’s going to enhance a person’s visit to the Icehouse — it’s not just going there to skate … we’ve spent a lot of money in the past two-and-a-half years, and we want to make sure the O’Brien Icehouse develops further into a multi-purpose venue. And the light and sound show could go a long way to doing that.”

The shows are particularly popular in North America, and used as pre-game entertainment before National Hockey League (NHL) games.

The visual trickery provided by the projectors give the impression of a rink turning into, for example, a lake of fire or crumbling ice.

Mr Hodgetts said the experience would be an Australian first.

“The light and sound show would be a wonderful addition, because there’s nothing like it. There’s light and sound shows around, but not ones that’ll have the atmosphere we’ll have by being able to project images onto ice.”

Melbourne’s sixth lockdown period had stalled key talks related to the project.

Mr Hodgetts said the company would have a strong idea whether the idea would proceed within six weeks of restrictions lifting, and “certainly by the end of this year”.

“It’s an exciting project, but it’s still got a long way to go.”

He said they expected to invest between $3.5 to $5 million on the show and that for Docklands — in particular The District Docklands precinct — could have huge flow-on effects for nearby businesses.

“We believe it would be a major attraction and beneficial to Melbourne, both by bringing people from the country, interstate and international visitors when we get back to that. We think it’ll be something that’s very attractive,” he said.

“It’s our view that if we’re attracting people to the District Docklands precinct then that’ll have a flow-on affect for smaller retailers.”

Mr Hodgetts confirmed they had begun early talks with management at the nearby Melbourne Star Observation Wheel about a possible ride-and-show promotion for visitors.

He said their mantra was to work with nearby businesses.

“As a company we believe in promoting the whole precinct, and we will work together with [District Docklands CEO] George Karabatsos and his team, and the other major attractions. We don’t just think about ourselves, we believe we have a major role to play in promoting the whole precinct.”

Mr Hodgetts said the sixth lockdown period, announced by the Victorian government on August 5, had been particularly tough on the business.

“It’s very frustrating and disappointing. We were going along really well and have been shut down now for some time — and quite a bit of time in the past 18 months — so it’s very difficult financially but hopefully we reopen soon.”

He said the company had normally relied on a number of casual staff members, each of whom was currently not receiving any shifts.

However, there was optimism that when restrictions were lifted, the Icehouse would bounce back.

“I think that once things are opened up again and we can operate at full capacity — both us and the Wheel, and ArtVo — I think we can get the place back to a reasonable level of visitation fairly quickly.”

Mr Hodgetts said that if they proceeded with the light and sound show, government funding would be sought.

In June the Victorian Government provided the Icehouse with a $2 million injection after it had “faced significant pressures due to the pandemic”.

The support enabled it to re-ice the second rink, which is used as a key training venue for the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, and home to the Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs in the Australian Ice Hockey League.

The first rink would continue to be used for public ice skating.

The Icehouse, which opened in 2010, is the only dual-rink facility in Australia containing two Olympic-sized ice skating rinks.

It attracts more than 200,000 visitors per year, has stadium seating for 1000 people as well as 2300 pairs of skates for general hire.

Prior to COVID-19, it hosted more than 100 events annually including ice hockey matches featuring the Ice and Mustangs, and national and international events and competitions •


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