Need to beat this heat? Boy, does State Fair have an icy solution for you this year

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Chuck Long, of AZ Printing, prepares to place sings on the ice skating rink at the Mississippi Coliseum Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

As I type these words on the last morning of September, the temperature just hit 90 degrees in Jackson. My weather app says we are on the way to 93, a degree or six lower than our brutally high temps have been lately.

We have endured the hottest September on record. We have been at 94 or hotter 24 days this month. It’s far too hot for playing or watching football, too hot for comfortable golf – really too hellishly hot for anything that doesn’t involve air conditioning. And, at least this week, there’s no relief in sight. The forecast calls for highs above 90 through Sunday.

Rick Cleveland

What’s odd about that is the Mississippi State Fair begins Wednesday. The fair usually brings out first whiff of cool air and sends us to the closet to get a windbreaker or sweater. This week, you could fry eggs on the midway. The predicted high for Wednesday’s opening day is a scorching 97 degrees. Break out the hot chocolate!

At this fair, those who bob for apples might just decide to stay under water.

Wait, did I say no relief is in sight? State Fair executive director Steve Hutton begs to differ. Hutton might have come up with the best idea for the State Fair since fresh biscuits and molasses. In his second year as the Fair’s CEO, he is turning Mississippi Coliseum into an ice dome.

That’s right, the coliseum’s floor has been transformed into an 8,000-square-foot ice rink. For the first time ever, there will be ice skating at the Mississippi State Fair. For 10 dollars a day, fairgoers can rent some skates and take to the ice. If you are coming in from the midway at midday, you might just want to lie on it.

“People who want to skate will get armbands, which will serve as an all-day pass,” Hutton said. “You can got out and enjoy the fair, ride the rides, get something to eat, and then come back and skate again. You can ice skate in shorts and a T-shirt. Where else can you do that?”

Better question: When did Hutton come up with the idea for this?

“That would be June 5, 2018,” Hutton said. “That’s the day I took this job.”

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

State Fair executive director Steve Hutton talks about the Mississippi State Fair newest attraction, ice skating, at the Mississippi Coliseum Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

Hutton has a history with ice. From 2012 to 2014 Hutton put on Christmas on Ice in Madison, drawing more than 100,000 each year to a temporary outdoor rink.

“I have always thought this would work at the State Fair, and we have the perfect place for it here in the coliseum,” Hutton said.

One problem: The coliseum has usually hosted at least one big State Fair concert each year.

“My thinking is that you usually had one concert one night that drew about 5,000 people,” Hutton said. “Now, you’re going to have the coliseum open to the public for skating for 13 days and nights. I don’t know how many people will skate but I am betting far more than 5,000. We will still have the free concerts outside, of course.”

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Ice skates are in place for the Mississippi State Fair at the Mississippi Coliseum Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

Hutton said Christmas on Ice in Madison averaged about 1,700 skaters per day. Given that nearly half a million people are expected to visit the State Fair, he expects to easily better that number per day over the course of 13 days.

No, Hutton laughed, he didn’t know the weather was going to be this hot when he made the decision.

“I guess we just lucked out on that,” he said.

Many will remember that Mississippi Coliseum hosted a minor league hockey team, the Jackson Bandits, from 1999 until 2003. The ice rink equipment from back then is long gone, Hutton said. But a Jackson Hockey Club, a group of Jackson-area hockey enthusiasts, remains. Tonight, members will play a hockey game on the new ice at the coliseum at 9 p.m. Marvin Powell, the first native born Mississippi professional hockey player, will take part.

The current rink is provided by a company called Magic Ice USA out of Miami, the same company that built the Christmas rink in Madison. The company also provides 800 pairs of skates for rental.

“Most of that company’s business comes around the Christmas holidays,” Hutton said. “I made a proposal to them that they set us up here during a time when their equipment is usually in storage. And let’s see how it goes. My pitch to them is that this could lead to more business in the future. They are basically doing this for us at cost this year.”

The rink was made by using a solution called glycol over a matted floor to reduce the coliseum floor surface to 20 degrees below freezing. Then, workers flooded the floor with water that froze quickly to produce a sheet of ice five to six inches thick.

Trust me on this: Get anywhere near it and you would never guess it is 95 degrees outside.