While Sarasotans are withering in July’s 90-degree heat, a group of business leaders has come up with a cool idea to invigorate downtown.
They want to hold an annual event in which an ice-skating rink is constructed on a city street for families to use during the winter holiday season.
“It would make downtown Sarasota a unique destination for the entire region,” said John Simon, Pineapple Square developer and board member of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance.
Simon and fellow DSA member and former Mayor Mary Anne Servian have been working on the skating-rink idea for about two months. They plan to present the proposal to the City Commission July 19.
If approved, the 85-foot-by-40-foot rink would be built on top of First Street between Five Points Park and the library. It would remain there from a week before Thanksgiving to Jan. 3, and the street would have to be closed during that time.
The timing of the rink’s construction would be coordinated with the completion of the Five Points roundabout and improvements to Five Points Park, as well as the near completion of the Palm Avenue parking garage.
“It would allow us to display the remake of downtown,” said Simon.
No admission would be charged for entrance into the covered ice rink, but there would be a charge for skate rental.
The main hurdle is funding. Simon said it would cost $250,000 per year to operate. Half of that money would go to the company that would install the rink. The other half would go toward personnel and other operating costs.
Simon will go before the City Commission to ask for $25,000 in funding. He also plans to ask the County Commission for $75,000. The remaining balance of funds would come from skate rentals and other sales at the ice rink, as well as sponsorship opportunities, including the naming rights for the rink.
Simon asked the Downtown Improvement District board July 13 for $15,000 for initial costs needed this month to reserve the rink, but board members were reluctant to provide the funds without knowing first if the city and county were contributing some money.
“I like the idea, but you’re asking us for money without any assurance the city is going to approve it,” said DID Chairman Larry Fineberg. “It’s definitely a leap of faith.”
Simon listed other cities that have put up temporary rinks during the holidays and have drawn large crowds, including Seattle, Orlando and Ocala.
“Ocala drew 30,000 during the (ice rink’s) five-week duration,” he said.
He hopes if Sarasota can attract a fraction of that attendance that it will have a positive effect on downtown businesses.
“Hopefully, people will take a stroll and discover downtown, particularly families,” said Simon.
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