Area ice rink enjoyed a fun, prosperous run

Nina Arias, 18, Chelsea Key, 17, and Deedee Davila, 18, all of Interlachen, lean on each other for balance while skating Sunday at the Downtown Community Plaza ice skating rink.

BRIANA BROUGH/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 10:15 p.m.
Four-year-old Connor Weinberg never ice skated before, but he insisted on trying Sunday after watching his sister glide across the ice at Gainesville's Ice Palace.
Connor eventually got his chance, wobbling carefully from his father's arms to the waiting hands of 9-year-old Madison Weinberg and her friend Ashley Reedy, also 9. Within minutes, little Connor was skating on his own, a quick learner thanks to his experience with roller blades.
As the boy inched along the edge of the 60-by-90 foot rink, which is kept cold by Freon tubes despite the 70-degree heat, others whizzed past him.
The skaters were among more than 13,000 people who took to the ice in Gainesville's Downtown Community Plaza this season, and rink managers expect the total to reach 14,000 by the time it closes today, the final day it's open this season. The turnout was welcome news after last year's dwindling business.
The first year the palace opened in 2003, 14,879 ice skaters showed up over a six-week period. The next year, however, numbers were much lower, so the city of Gainesville decided to shorten the skating season to four weeks this year.
"We were just so bummed the whole season last year. We weren't making money, the ice guy didn't know if he wanted to come back, it was just gloom and doom," said Laural DeWild, events coordinator for the city's Cultural Affairs department. "But now the future looks good."
DeWild said the rink is expected to raise about $10,000 in revenue this year, rather than costing $10,000. She predicts the city will offer an expanded six weeks of skating again next year. DeWild said the change in business may be the result of cooler weather this year, but primarily she believes it's a response to the free skate rentals offered to students every Monday.
Jeanie Pauli, co-manager of Gainesville's Ice Palace, said Sunday that the rink's success also brought customers to downtown businesses, such as Quiznos and Starbucks.
"Everybody profits," said the Utah resident, an accomplished skater who offered lessons on the rink. Pauli said the rink attracted a range of visitors, with would-be figure skaters coming in the mornings and children in the afternoons.
Pauli said there were several "record-breaking" turnouts at the rink this year. On Friday alone, 955 skaters took to the ice. Last year, the highest single-day turnout was 696, she said.
Five-year-old Aryil Bechtel is among those planning to come back next year. The blond little boy started skating at the rink at age 3, and he started roller skating at age 1, as soon as he could walk enough to climb into his big sister's skates, said his mother, Bethany Bechtel.
On Sunday, Aryil rushed around the rink until he worked up a sweat.
Nine-year-old Chris Branch was among the fastest, until he flopped over and got a chill from the wet ice. He ran to tell his waiting mother and father, Esther and Joseph Branch, who had been reading the newspaper on a bench for an hour already.
"Mom, I finally fell," Chris said. "It's so cold! You don't think it's cold until you fall."
The mother offered to take him home, but Chris insisted on getting right back on the ice.
"We'll probably be here all afternoon," Esther Branch said as her husband settled back into reading his paper. "All Christmas break, he kept asking to come, and we said we'd eventually take him, so we're here on a promise."
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at 338-3111 or pakkalt@

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