Downtown ice skating rink canceled

In this file photo, an ice skater whizzes around the ice-skating rink in Gainesville's Downtown Plaza on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, 2005.

Briana Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 9:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 9:18 p.m.

After weeks of technical problems and delays, plans to open a temporary ice skating rink in downtown Gainesville have been canceled, city officials said Friday.

Midwest Display Inc., a company that specializes in holiday-themed decorations, was scheduled to open the ice rink at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza the day after Thanksgiving, but it has been plagued with installation problems ranging from resizing its standard rink to fit a smaller space to pipes that burst during testing.

The setbacks forced the company to postpone the opening three times, missing a crucial week or two of business from college students before they headed home for winter break.

It was the company's decision to pull the plug.

“The vendor encountered numerous technical problems,” said Russell Etling with the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, “and it just got to be insurmountable.

“There was a critical window for attendance, and it came to a point where (the vendor) had to cut his losses,” Etling said. “He was disappointed and so were we.”

Mike Howard, the owner of Midwest Display Inc., which recently relocated to Florida, could not be reached for comment.

In an earlier report, Howard described how he and his crew had run into one problem after another, including trying to modify their standard 40- by 80-foot rink to the smaller 50- by 50-foot grassy area in front of the plaza stage, where the rink was to be installed.

“In hindsight, we probably should have built up the area and put in a full-size rink,” said Howard, whose company has built ice rinks at military bases and theme parks around the country for the last 10 years. “It was much more difficult than we assumed.”

Etling said the company had made a considerable investment and the rink was nearly 75 percent installed. The tent was in place, all the tubing was in, and the skates were lined up, he said.

“They were at the point where the chillers were to come in,” Etling said. “But when they crunched the numbers, it didn't work for him.”

The city would have received 10 percent of the ice rink's revenues as compensation for use of the plaza, said Etling.

“But of course, both sides were interested in providing something special for the holiday for the city,” he said. “We all felt badly that it could not come to fruition.”

Etling said Howard expressed hope he could bring holiday ice skating to Gainesville in the future.

In the meantime, Etling said he wanted to remind people of the New Year's Eve concert the city is planning for Dec. 31.

Sun correspondent Alli Langley contributed to this report.

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