Attendance dipped during the second year of downtown Tacoma’s holiday ice rink, but organizers still plan to bring it back for a third year.
Organizers estimated about 9,000 people paid to skate at Franciscan Polar Plaza, on Pacific Avenue across from the Tacoma Art Museum, which opened the day after Thanksgiving and closed Jan. 6.
That compares with about 11,000 paid visitors the first year, said Cameron Fellows of the art museum, which led the effort to launch the temporary rink.
“We do hope to see it grow this next year,” Fellows said. He said organizers weren’t sure why the number dropped. He estimated the rink will end up with a small deficit, which will be covered by the museum and some of the sponsors.
A spokesman for lead sponsor Franciscan Health System, which has contributed $25,000 each year to open the rink, said this week that the health care nonprofit was proud to be a part of the rink. Gale Robinette said the sponsorship would be evaluated this spring as part of the standard process of putting together its budget for the next fiscal year.
“There is a new wrinkle for us,” Robinette said. “The City of Tacoma has levied a (business) tax on our organization that has a significant operating cost to us of about $1.5 million a year, so going forward, that will be a cost that will be a factor as we evaluate sponsorship opportunities.
“Our resources are limited, just as they are for any business,” he said. “We’re not saying we’re not going to sponsor the Polar Plaza. It’s a great venue.”
The City Council voted last year to remove an exemption for the city’s nonprofit hospitals, which had been paying a 75 percent reduced business and occupation tax rate. The city will raise an estimated $5.5 million in new revenues for its cash-strapped general fund over the next two years.
This year, the rink was more visible from Pacific Avenue. The warming area was improved, Fellows said, and visitor response indicated the changes were welcome. The rink also had more events, including live music every Saturday.
Polar Plaza also saw several dedicated events, including an afternoon of skating by the McCarver Peacemakers – dozens of children from McCarver Elementary School who came to the rink through a partnership with Franciscan.
“Our kids don’t usually get these kind of experiences,” said Carol Ramm-Gramenz, a counselor at McCarver. “Many of our kids live in poverty. It would be a lot to buy a ticket to go ice skating.
“They had such pure joy,” she said. “It was new, it was challenging, it’s not easy to ice skate. But to watch them get past their fear — they talked about how their perseverance paid off because they were all able to skate by the end of the afternoon.”
One downtown business manager said it didn’t feel like attendance slowed. Judi Hyman of Two Koi, just up the hill from the rink, said Tuesday her restaurant “had the same type of overflow business and buzz.”
Hyman, also the president of the Downtown Merchants Group, said the ice rink is very popular with downtown business owners. “We love having it there,” she said.