The Downtown Fresno Partnership said Friday that high costs of running the winter ice rink in Fulton Mall and lack of interest from businesses there were keys in its decision to cancel the popular event this holiday season.
In response, Manchester Center in central Fresno signaled interest, saying it will do whatever it can to bring an ice rink to its mall.
Aaron Blair, CEO and president of the downtown partnership, said Nov. 12 that the group decided to cancel the rink in June, when organizers believed the city’s plan to open Fulton Mall to traffic would be underway with construction. Plans stalled in October when bids came in more than $3 million above what the city had hoped to pay for the project.
On Friday, Blair elaborated further.
“We did look at other potential locations, but site requirements, power, high cost (and) low business support made it difficult for us to move the rink,” he said.
Power costs were a major concern.
Craig Scharton, the partnership’s Fulton district manager and owner of Peeve’s Public House on Fulton Mall, said the group paid for a $100,000 transformer on Mariposa Mall to power the ice rink. That wasn’t enough – the partnership also had to rent generators to keep the rink frozen.
Blair said the downtown partnership had not considered reaching out to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for help powering the ice rink. He added that PG&E is a sponsor of the partnership, and he would welcome its help.
PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said the company has contributed $12,500 to the partnership in the last three years, with $7,500 of that earmarked for the rink. He added that the company attempted to do the same this year, but the partnership asked PG&E to sponsor other events. It did, donating $2,500 to the Downtown Christmas Parade & Festival and the annual State of Downtown event.
These donations may be a drop in the bucket. Blair said it costs “several hundred thousand dollars” to host the rink, and the partnership has lost money on it each year.
Local businesses also told the partnership the ice rink did little for their profits, Blair said.
Scharton said the ice skating was fun for the community, but it did not bring more people into his pub.
Sevak Khatchadourian, owner of the Pacific Southwest Building on Fulton Mall, said people usually skate and then leave. They do not stay downtown and spend money at the businesses.
Blair said the partnership posted on its website in February that the ice rink was put on hold. Blair and Special Ice, the vendor that builds and maintains the rink each year, continued to look for solutions until June.
Because the rink takes about nine months to put together, Blair said, even with a June start date, it would have been difficult to have the rink ready for the coming holidays.
However, Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier and some local residents did not hear of the cancellation until this week.
“It’s very regrettable that they picked the middle of November to spring this on the community,” Olivier said. “A lot of people don’t go downtown except for the ice rink. If they were having problems, they should have approached the community months ago.”
Olivier said many Fresno families don’t have much money for recreation, and the ice rink provided low-cost fun. He hopes to move the rink to Manchester Center, the mall located at Shields and Blackstone avenues within Olivier’s District 7.
Sandra Cortez, a spokeswoman for Manchester Center owner Omninet Properties, said the mall would be happy to host the rink either outside or inside. As of Friday afternoon, she had not been in contact with a vendor or the Downtown Fresno Partnership about whether this would be possible.
Both Scharton and Blair believe it would not be feasible for anyone to host an ice rink of that scale on such short notice.
Scharton said the partnership now has time to improve the rink plans before next year. He also hopes that another year of revitalization will bring more businesses to the Fulton corridor, which would make the ice rink a higher focus for business owners.
“We need places with hot chocolate and coffee,” he said. “And stores for people to do their holiday shopping in.”
“That would create a lot more synergy between the Fulton businesses, the partnership and the community,” he continued. “It will be much bigger post-revitalization.”