No ice skating downtown this year

Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Gainesville's "Plaza Ice Palace," which has brought ice skating and a bit of winter flavor to the city, will not be renewed this holiday season.

Financial constraints and rising costs to rent and operate the ice rink, which was first set up by the city half a decade ago, kept the city from continuing the tradition this year, said Coni Gesualdi, Gainesville's cultural affairs manager.

"It's unfortunate. I really feel sorry because people really had fun times there," Gesualdi said.

While the city has subsidized the rink in the past, the possibility of continuing the event this year was initially put in jeopardy by a tight city budget that resulted from property tax cuts mandated by the Florida Legislature. While the city found funding to run the event, officials found that the contractors who run ice rinks in Florida had increased their costs, making the event unfeasible, Gesualdi said.

Both contractors who bid to build this year's rink asked for more than $190,000 and the city would have had to pay about $30,000 for electricity, security and other services to keep the rink running, Gesualdi said. To cover these costs, the city would have had to more than double the price of tickets at the rink, from $10 to about $25, a move that could have hurt attendance, she said.

By comparison, last year the rink cost the city about $142,000 and brought in about $99,000 in revenue from 10,000 skaters, Gesualdi said.

Among those were students at Lincoln Middle School, who had taken field trips to the rink every year it was in operation, said Jeff Wilson, a physical education teacher at the school. Between 80 and 100 students went on the annual trips each year, some returning with their parents or siblings after the school event, Wilson said.

"We like to offer things that you can't do at school and it's a reward to kids based on how they participate and how they do in class," Wilson said.

Wilson said the school likely will continue to offer a skating-themed trip this winter, but likely will have to take the students to Jacksonville - where they went before the city began sponsoring the downtown rink.

"It's sad to see them not doing it," Wilson said.

"But we understand budget cuts, because we do a lot of fundraising ourselves and there's a lot of things we can't do because we can't raise enough money."

Though the downtown plaza will remain iceless this year, Gesualdi held out hope of resurrecting the tradition in the future.

"I hate to say never to any of these things," Gesualdi said. "I've been around long enough to know that even if something has a reason for folding at one time, it can be brought back."

"Because it's such a popular thing, I'm sure in the future when we get more money, it'll be something that will be reconsidered," she said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or

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