Tolliver and her son. Photo by the author.

Over 700 people crowded the new St. Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend for DC’s latest winter attraction: a $220,000 ice slide.

"They didn’t want an ice rink, they wanted to do something different,” says Kelsie Wright, whose company KCW Communications, LLC was contracted to oversee the slide, as well as decorate the pavilion with lights to create a winter wonderland east of the river. Government officials hope that the slide, and the $8 million pavilion overall, will set the stage for revitalization of the St. Elizabeths campus, which hasn’t seen development in over 60 years.

The exclusivity of the attraction is what drew Cherry Tolliver and her four-year-old son to the slide on January 25, one of the coldest days this winter. A resident of Alexandria, Tolliver knew of no other amenity of this type near her home.

"My son loves it. I rode with him the first time, then he started going by himself,” she said.

Braving the cold along with Tolliver was Capitol Hill resident Clara Ewell and her 3-year-old daughter. “It’s fun because it’s not enough snow to go sledding,” says Ewell, who was led up the stairs and in line nearly a dozen times by her pint-sized toddler, who craved the rush of the slope in her mom’s arms. 

The inflatable tube that whips down the frozen ice and into a bumper wall is equipped to seat one adult and one small child. Toddlers who are able to independently hold the handles can ride alone after parents sign a safety release form.

A few feet away, both families took advantage of the warmth and accommodations inside the pavilion’s entertainment facility. A children’s playroom housed games, arts and crafts; hot beverages and snacks could be purchased by the resident pop-up coffee shop, The Orange Cow Café; and a movie screening section was set up adjacent to a guest lounge area.

Unlike any space readily available in Ward 8, the pavilion opened last October as an urban park, welcoming experimental and temporary retail, dining, and educational and community events. Thus far, the 180-acre campus has seen success with events such as its fall festival, farmers’ markets, yoga and cooking classes, and food truck vendors for US Coast Guard employees and the surrounding community. Soon, patrons can expect outdoor movies and other events highlighting the site’s extensive green space.

With an underground tunnel separating them, amenities like the pop-up café and food truck vendors should cater to the 3,700 US Coast Guard employees who have recently relocated headquarters to St. Elizabeths West. If the federal government can find the funding, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to bring another 10,000 employees from FEMA, the TSA, and others in the near future.

"What we are witnessing this morning,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton during October’s opening of the pavilion, “is the beginning of the transformation of Martin Luther King Avenue.”

The ice slide will be in service every weekend until February 17th. The fee is only $5 for adults, and free for children.

Crossposted on Elevation DC.