North County resident Derek Ehinger is ready to trade in his ice skates for shoes of the wheeled variety as he converts his downtown Atascadero winter attraction into a temporary roller rink.
For the last two years, Ehinger has brought a seasonal ice skating rink to Atascadero by setting it up under a large white tent in different locations from December to March.
His goal behind running the temporary rinks is to build sponsorships to establish San Luis Obispo County's first permanent ice rink.
The endeavor, called Blades on Ice, was first set up in the less-visible Crossroads Church parking lot off Highway 41. Since December, it’s been operating across from the Sunken Gardens off El Camino Real.
Ice hockey, lessons and family skating first attracted about 7,000 skaters. About double that number skated during the ice rink’s latest run, which ended in March.
“The downtown location really blew up this year,” Ehinger said Wednesday.
As the father of three searches the North County for a 3-acre plot to build the permanent 18,000-square-foot ice rink, he’s gearing up to open a temporary roller rink at the same downtown location from May to September.
Then, he’ll bring the seasonal ice back for a third year to run October through March 2015.
His intent: to give local youth more things to do.
“It’s really rewarding seeing the kids have a good time,” he said.
On Wednesday, the ice was gone and plywood boards made up a new floor — the coolant lines that create the ice still visible from the sidelines.
A worker was busy constructing a deck for a new snack bar while Ehinger discussed plans to install a plastic “sport-court” covering for roller skating, roller hockey, indoor soccer (called futsal) and even the occasional community event. He’s also building a live music stage for skaters to enjoy a weekly concert series and is finalizing plans to welcome local schools’ P.E. classes.
“I just want to get the kids here,” said Ehinger, an ice hockey enthusiast. “That’s the most important thing.”
Ehinger has inked a deal to keep the rink at its current downtown spot through April 2015. The land, where the North County Christian Thrift Store burned in 2009, is the future home of a new shopping development called the La Plaza Downtown Retail Center. Its developers are allowing Ehinger to stay on their land in exchange for 10 percent of the rink’s gross sales while they firm up details for the retail project approved last year.
Ehinger, a local electrician, barely breaks even financially on the temporary rinks, which are mostly funded through help from friends, silent partners and ticket sales. In 2013, ticket sales exceeded the rink’s $70,000 operation costs by about $7,000, he said. That money will go into the $50,000 it’s taking to transition the ice rink into a roller rink.
Meanwhile, he’s seeking investors for the permanent rink, which he estimates will cost about $250,000 to establish.