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A garden maze, happy hours and the other additions to Dilworth Park

Usually, when Paul Levy, the president and CEO of the Center City District, works on a big project, his team tries to keep it under wraps. But when you're building a giant maze on the lawn of one Center City's most famous landmarks, it's hard to keep your plans a secret.

Dilworth Plaza has continued to add amenities since renovations to the park were completed in 2014. For the third year, the Rothman Ice Rink will bring skaters to City Hall. Last year, the organization added the Rothman Cabin, where skaters could warm up with hot seasonal cocktails featuring Jim Beam Apple or Effen Blood Orange vodka and Sam Adams craft beer, and comfort foods such as soup, chili, and s'mores.

This year, the big new attraction is the America's Garden Capital Maze on the Albert M. Greenfield Lawn in the southern portion of Dilworth Park. The maze comprises willow-branch archways, evergreens, perennials, shrubs, and topiary sculptures adorned with twinkle lights. There will be also be programming through the winter, like a regular Wednesday happy hour, gardening classes, and college nights.

Both the Rothman Ice Rink and America's Garden Capital Maze will open Friday for the season,  with a Veterans Day opening ceremony featuring patriotic music and a flag presentation. Veterans and active members of the military can skate for free all day with a military ID. The rink, cabin, and maze will stay open until Feb. 26.

The maze and the new programming added to Dilworth are another step in the strategy to bring people to a park that Levy says "everyone avoided for years."

"What we're most excited to see is how many people we can fit in Dilworth at one time," Levy said. "We already thought we knew from" the Villanova NCAA tournament victory parade.

The maze was created through a partnership with Greater Philadelphia Gardens, a group of 32 public gardens in the area. Nationally known and local gardens, such as Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, and Morris Arboretum, donated plants and infrastructure for the maze.

"What many people don't know is that we have more concentration of public gardens here in the region than any other place in America" has, said Nancy Goldenberg, vice president of planning and development for Center City District. "We wanted something unique to activate and make that portion of the park more beautiful, and they wanted to get the message out [about their] gardens."

The Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, which started last year, will return next Saturday to Dilworth Park and will feature locally sourced and inspired crafts, art, and food. The Christmas Village, which was previously housed at LOVE Park, now under renovation, will take up residence at the City Hall Courtyard and Northern Apron.

The maze isn't the only new horticultural addition to Dilworth. This year, the region's gardens will host free garden programs in the cabin throughout January and February leading up to the Philadelphia Flower Show in early March. The schedule includes family-oriented programs, such as terrarium how-tos, and programs targeted toward office workers on their lunch breaks, such as "Orchids for the Office."

"Everyone comes out for shopping. They come for the markets, but the markets go away" after Christmas, Levy said. The programs will "just continue to animate the city."

The district has had luck getting people into the area with its popular Center City Sips program. "Cocktails and Cold Ones," starting Wednesday, will try to replicate that success in the cabin from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays featuring $5 cocktails, $4 wine, and $3 beer.

"We've got families with children, we've got young adults, we've got middle-aged folks, we have empty-nesters," Levy said, "so we're trying to do a program for the entire range of people and all the people who live and work downtown."

There will also be "College Nights" on Tuesdays, with $2 admission for college students, and "Symphony Sundays," which will feature recorded classical music from the Philadelphia Orchestra. After the holidays, figure skaters can visit the park for a Friday the 13th "Zombie Skate" on Jan. 13 and a "Sweetheart Skate" for Valentine's Day.

"I'm anxious to see all the smiles," Goldenberg said. "I was there working alongside the designer who was working on installing the maze, and across the park came this single guy, had the grumpiest look on his face. He must have just come from a really bad meeting. He looked up and he saw what was happening, and this big smile -- he just lit up and smiled as he walked by.

"If everybody could do that as they come onto Dilworth Park and see all this activity happen," she said, "that would be a successful season."