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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 9, 2010 7 years ago

Restaurateur opposes ice-rink plan

by: Robin Roy City Editor

The Sept. 15 deadline to secure a deposit for a proposed downtown ice rink is fast approaching. And although there is support in the community and at City Hall, at least one prominent business owner is hoping the funds don’t come through.

J.P. Knaggs, owner of Bijou Café, 1287 First St., said a plan to put a skating rink in November and December on First Street between Selby Library and Selby Five Points Park would hamper business for him and others.

“I’m vehemently opposed to closing First Street at a time the opera is on,” he said. “A thousand people descend on that place. It’s like Times Square. If that street is closed, it’ll be total chaos.”

Knaggs said he and other business owners can’t afford to turn away any customers, especially for two months during the height of tourist season.

“It’s hard enough to make a living in this economy,” he said. “Every penny counts.”

The Sarasota Opera did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The idea behind the ice rink is to generate business for downtown. Two members of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, developer John Simon and former Mayor Mary Anne Servian, are leading the effort to install an 85-foot-by-40-foot rink on First Street from a week before Thanksgiving to Jan. 3.

They believe it will be a big draw for families and tourists and will bring them downtown to play, shop and dine.

Servian said other cities that have similar ice rinks, such as Ocala and Orlando, draw a minimum of 30,000 people per season.

“Every single community we’ve talked to has restaurants with lines out the door,” she said.

No admission would be charged for entrance into Sarasota’s covered ice rink, but there would be a charge for skate rental.

Simon has been busy trying to secure enough money to place a deposit on the rink. The city has promised to provide a $25,000 loan and to waive more than $100,000 in permit fees. The Downtown Improvement District is considering offering a $15,000 loan. The county balked at funding.

With about $150,000 needed in a week, Simon is now busy pitching the idea to the private sector.

Knaggs said he likes the idea of a skating rink in Sarasota, just not at its proposed location.

“If it’s just for kids to skate, the amphitheater at Payne Park is perfect,” he said. “Or there are other empty lots around town. They’re going to make me sound like a Scrooge, but I just can’t see closing First Street.”

Servian said she has spoken to Knaggs about his concerns and urged him to take advantage of the crowds by handing out coupons, for example.

“Everybody else is excited about this opportunity,” she said.

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