Ice skating is returning to Atascadero.
The Atascadero father of three is setting up his seasonal rink under a large white tent at the empty lot across from Sunken Gardens downtown. He began prepping the site, 6420 El Camino Real, on Wednesday.
The vacant field is the same spot where the North County Christian Thrift Store burned down in 2009 and where the future La Plaza Downtown Retail Center development is slated to be built. The property owners allowed Ehinger to use the space temporarily, Ehinger said.
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Based on initial talks, Ehinger said he may be able to operate there this and next hockey season, which runs from about December to March.
The rink’s grand opening is planned for the first week in December and will be incorporated into the community’s Winter Wonderland event.
“I’m so excited about the downtown location,” Ehinger said. “This site gives us extra exposure.”
He wants to attract 10,000 skaters this year, up from 7,000 last year.
Building awareness is critical to his plans to establish a permanent rink. Aside from the holiday rinks that come and go, a year-round rink would be a first for San Luis Obispo County.
The city supports the endeavor, Mayor Tom O’Malley said. “We’re going full steam ahead — or, full ice ahead, as it seems to be,” he added.
So far, Ehinger’s permanent rink plans call for leasing a vacant site up the street at 2600 El Camino Real, erecting a metal building there and offering ice skating in the winter and indoor sports with a possible roller rink in the off season.
His goal is provide kids with more recreational options, and also provide a venue for folks who love ice sports on the warm Central Coast.
The 5,200-square-foot ice rink he set up last year in the Crossroads Church parking lot off Highway 41 initially catered to the holiday crowd and then focused on adult hockey club tournaments, figure skating and youth skating lessons. This year, at 9,600 square feet, the ice rink will be almost double that size. It will offer the same programs and Ehinger wants to expand to youth hockey leagues as well.
The local electrician invested $35,000 in the temporary rink last year, using his own money and help from friends. Blades on Ice made $90,000 through ticket sales, allowing Ehinger to break even on the operation costs but not enough money to pay back about $20,000 in loans.
This year, he’s partnered with an undisclosed investor with the hope of generating $120,000 in gross income by attracting more skaters.
“I’d like to break even plus have last year’s debt paid off,” he said.
Meanwhile, he plans to save money and seek investors for the permanent rink, which he estimates will cost about $250,000 to establish.