Federal Way’s roller rink is officially back in action

The wood floor still shines. The beats still bump. And memories are still being made.

The El Centro Skate Rink — formerly known for decades as Pattison’s West — officially re-opened to the public on Nov. 26. All ages of skaters flocked that afternoon under the familiar neon lights and booming pop music that has made the rink iconic for generations of residents and visitors.

“I just think this place is one of a kind,” said Adam Dabling, a rollerblader, speedskater and Team Xtreme member who was there that afternoon. “There are other rinks, but this one just leaves all of them in the dust.”

Adam, 17, lives a half-hour away, but happily drives to the rink multiple times a week for public sessions and to practice. He’s been to other skating joints in Washington and Oregon, and those rinks just don’t measure up because they’re slippery and less consistent compared to this rink, he said. And then there’s the people.

“I just moved here, and some of the people working at the rink are my first and closest friends,” Adam said. “I love this place, and to see it go would make me really, really sad. It’s the place I go to have fun and relieve stress.”

The roller rink remained open for private events during its roughly two-month downtime, but now, it’s back to business as usual.

Inside, not much has changed. Visitors can still rent out skates, hit up the arcade and book the birthday party room. Private parties can book the entire rink with their own music playlist, and there are separate times for all-ages and adults-only skating.

There are some modern touches: Tickets can now be purchased ahead of time online for both regular visits and skating classes.

Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays feature R&B, soul, funk and hip-hop nights with guest DJs, and Thursdays put on the blues, cha-cha, march, tango and waltz music.

Plans for the roller rink also include a future marketplace for small businesses and entrepreneurs. El Centro plans to expand the snack bar in the future to serve Latin fare like tamales, pan dulce, horchata and aguas dulces.

Skating instructor Kim McDowell has been going to the rink for about 25 years. She’s taught lessons for around 12 years and still does so.

Having seen “generations” of skaters grow up at the rink, McDowell knows firsthand that skating trains balance and coordination and builds self-esteem in young people.

“It’s a really fun, healthy, family-friendly activity,” she said. “Kids, when they master it, it’s such a confidence builder.”

The roller rink here is a “fantastic” maple floor with curved boards that makes it highly attractive for speed skaters, McDowell said. So losing it would have been a huge disappointment.

“The Pattison family did a great job with this community and family activity, and it felt like it was ending, McDowell said. “When I learned it was still going to be a rink, and even better, run by a nonprofit, that was really exciting.”

El Centro has even bigger plans for the property and the area at the intersection of Pacific Highway South and 16th Ave. S.

The news came in late 2020 that Pattison’s West owner Mike Pattison and his wife, Kay, were ready to sell the business and retire. Local skaters expressed fear at the time over whether the new owners would keep the rink alive. The quality and size of the rink attracts lots of competitors — Olympic speed skaters like JR Celski and Apolo Ohno competed and trained at the rink in their youth — and makes it home to the local inline skating crew Team Xtreme.

El Centro purchased the rink in early October for $6.5 million, promising to keep skaters skating.

That purchase is the first step of a large planned expansion of its operations in the area. Also planned for that area over the next few years are a three-story community center, two affordable housing units, business storefronts, a child development center and more social services.

El Centro was founded in the early 1970s in Seattle and opened its Federal Way office in January 2020.

The full name of El Centro de la Raza translates to “The Center for People of All Races” in English. The organization, founded by the Latino community, offers youth and veteran services, business and housing development, basic and emergency services for families and more.

The El Centro Skate Rink will employ about 22 people, according to El Centro, and has opportunities for volunteering. (Contact volunter@elcentrodelaraza.org for more information.)

To buy tickets, check the schedule book the rink online, visit https://www.elcentroskaterink.com.