Plan for roller rink in Atascadero doesn't pan out

Derek Ehinger had planned to convert his temporary Blades on Ice skating rink into a roller rink this summer but ran into problems. The skating rink in downtown Atascadero now sits unused and unfinished.
Derek Ehinger had planned to convert his temporary Blades on Ice skating rink into a roller rink this summer but ran into problems. The skating rink in downtown Atascadero now sits unused and unfinished.

A plan to bring roller skating to downtown Atascadero is no longer happening.

“The roller rink is pretty much a lost cause at this point,” said Derek Ehinger, a local dad who has set up a seasonal ice skating rink in different locations around town from December to March for the last two years.

Ehinger said he got caught in a tangle of government regulations with the city's fire and building codes while trying to convert his existing temporary ice rink into a roller rink downtown. The primary problem was the plywood floor he installed without the correct permit.

Today, his rink is in a visible state of flux. The large white tent that once enclosed the rink — across from the Sunken Gardens on El Camino Real — is gone, but its metal frame still stands, exposing the floor to the open air and hot sun. The bustle of activity that took place to get the roller rink up and running weeks ago has ceased.

The ice hockey enthusiast has operated his rink, called Blades on Ice, with a focus on bringing recreation activities to local youth. He started out in December 2012 under a tent in a church parking lot off Highway 41 and then in December 2013 moved to an empty lot slated to become the La Plaza Downtown Retail Center next year. He’s allowed to operate there until March 2015 before moving on.

Wanting to take advantage of the new temporary downtown location that doubled his ticket sales, Ehinger hoped to convert the rink to offer roller skating this summer before switching back to ice skating this winter. He plans to meet with the city about it in August.

He said he will move the ice rink again, hopefully to a permanent location, when construction of La Plaza begins next year.

“This roller season has really thrown a loop in my plans,” he said. “But I have a big picture in mind, and it doesn’t include these little stumbling blocks. People get excited when they hear what I’m trying to do in the long run, and that’s what it is about. I’m just a local guy trying to build an ice arena, and that’s the big picture.”

Ehinger’s ultimate goal is to find land to build a permanent ice arena in Atascadero and says the temporary skating attractions help bring awareness and investors to that effort.

After his last ice skating season ended in March, Ehinger came up with a plan to continue operating the temporary attraction as a roller rink through this summer. He’d host the occasional concert there, he said, and give people another reason to hang out downtown.

In May, the city’s Planning Commission enthusiastically supported Ehinger’s plans and agreed to amend a conditional use permit for 6500 El Camino Real to allow his temporary rink tent to stay there through March 2015.

All was going well, Ehinger said, until he built his plywood floor to install a roller-skate-friendly sport court over the rink’s chilling lines.

“I spoke with the planners back in March about my intentions of turning the rink into a roller rink and was told I could get the existing (permit) changed to allow this. However, I failed to realize I would need additional building permits,” Ehinger said.

The city found out about the construction of his plywood floor and sent a building inspector, fire marshal and associate planner to the rink to check it out, he said.

The city stopped the work and required Ehlinger to file permits, said Warren Frace, the city’s community development director.

“During the review, city staff determined that flammable wood could not be used under a tent and that the tent would need fire sprinklers to remain over 180 days as a permanent structure,” Frace added.

Ehinger, not wanting to install fire sprinklers in a tent that he would take down eventually, removed tenting material but kept the frame up to hang lights. The move satisfied the city, Frace added.

Ehinger now has an approved permit and could open once a few other minor fixes are made, Frace said. But that’s not possible now, Ehinger said.

“I did work out an agreement with the city to open without the tent fabric. However, we cannot use the plywood floor unless I put the sport court plastic flooring on top, which is not able to withstand the heat of the direct sunlight,” Ehinger added.

Ehinger had to remove the sport court material and resign himself to the idea that his roller rink won’t be opening.

Overall, he lost an estimated $80,000 on flooring plus whatever he would have made in roller rink ticket sales.

Ehinger also had an agreement with the La Plaza developers to use their land in exchange for 10 percent of the rink's gross sales, which has been zero during the roller rink troubles. He’s now in talks with landowners about what to do next, he said.

But the local entrepreneur said he is trying not to let the summer setback quell his motivation as he looks to open for ice skating this fall and continue to search for land to establish San Luis Obispo County's first permanent ice rink.

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