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Downtown Tacoma’s ice rink to stay open an extra week, probably return next year

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on Dec. 29, 2011 at 11:31 am |
December 29, 2011 11:51 am

Downtown Tacoma’s holiday ice rink has been such a success that organizers plan to keep it open an extra week, and to bring it back next year.

“We’re meeting target numbers right now,” Tacoma Art Museum’s Cameron Fellows said Wednesday. “We’re definitely going to make the goal where the operator wants to do it again, and we want to do it again.”

The museum and Texas-based Ice Rink Events opened a temporary rink in downtown’s Tollefson Plaza. Franciscan Health System has been the lead sponsor and gave it its name: Franciscan Polar Plaza. The museum guaranteed it would raise a certain amount of money, and the company agreed it wouldn’t earn money until the rink meets a certain attendance threshhold.

The break-even point was about 20,000 tickets for the weeks between the day after Thanksgiving and Jan. 2. Fellows said they won’t quite get there, calling 20,000 tickets “a stretch goal,” but attendance has been strong enough to extend operating hours through Jan. 8.

Kristen Johnson (right), Morgan Britton (center) and Alexis Smithwick form a train while ice skating at Franciscan Polar Plaza in Tollefson Plaza in downtown Tacoma, Friday, November 25, 2011. Photo by Peter Haley, staff photographer

“We were hopeful to get over 12,000. The ice rink said if they got over 12,000 they felt comfortable” bringing back the rink, Fellows said. “Twelve thousand is a lot in the first year. It takes time to build up people’s awareness.”

Ice Rink Events project manager John Civitello said this morning that the attendance in Tacoma was outstanding.

“We’re happy as a company,” he said, estimating the rink had about 10,000 paid tickets and between 3,000 and 4,000 tickets given as part of sponsorships. “For a first-year ice rink to have 10,000 paid skaters, it sets a great precedent.”

Civitello said his company is interested in providing the rink again next year, under a more traditional contract arrangement with the museum.

The rink featured more than skating. Visitors could buy a tree from the lot next door, wear their most hideous holiday wear on Ugly Sweater Night, and hear live music. On New Year’s Eve, the rink will be open through midnight in coordination with downtown’s First Night celebration. First Night button holders get a free skate rental.

All skaters can take a half-off pass to the museum through Jan. 31.

And this weekend, Clarence the Camel will return to the museum’s plaza, across the street from the rink, offering rides for $5. His first visit on Dec. 4 was such a hit, Fellows said they brought him back.

“He’ll be here Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to as long as we have riders,” he said. “It’s all about the Facebook picture.”

Downtown Tacoma visitors ride a camel in front of the art museum earlier this month. Photo courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum.

Civitello said the rink operations went off without a hitch. Lessons learned?

“On slow days, don’t worry. People will come out on the weekend,” he said. “And I guess camels and ice skating go together pretty well.”

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