Columbia officials: Math of downtown skating rink adds up to boon

First year effort lost money but drew people – and dollars – to Main Street, they say

jmonk@thestate.comJanuary 11, 2013 

Mekhiya Davis, 9, tries ice skating for the first time in her life at the outdoor rink at Boyd Plaza in front of the Columbia Museum of Art. The plaza is located on the corner of Main and Hampton Street.

FILE PHOTOGRAPH — The State

— Columbia’s portable ice skating rink may have cost the city more money than it brought in, but it was a significant economic boon to downtown, city officials said this week.

In the weeks from late November through Sunday, the rink brought in $119,600 in revenue from ticket sales to 13,800 skaters, said city Parks and Recreation director Jeff Caton.

“Those numbers are fantastic,” Caton said in remarks to council earlier this week.

At the same time, it cost the city some $190,000 to rent equipment from Miami Ice USA, provide the electric power to chill the ice and build supporting structures at the Columbia Museum of Art plaza on Main Street where the rink was installed.

On paper, that’s about a $70,000 “loss,” but that’s not the whole story, Caton said.

The 13,800 ticket-buying skaters also brought with them several thousand friends and family members who were estimated to have spent – along with the skaters – some $198,000 on restaurant, snack and retail sales in the downtown area, Caton said.

If you add the nearly $120,000 in ticket sales to the $198,000 in estimated economic benefits to businesses, that’s about $318,000 total benefit, officials said. If you then subtract the $190,000 in rink rental costs from $318,000, you get a $128,000 gain, city officials said.

The skating rink, the first-ever open rink downtown, has operated at the museum plaza since late November.

Open initially as an experiment, it was to have closed Sunday. But the public response prompted City Council on Tuesday night to vote unanimously to leave it open another two weeks.

The money used to rent the rink and pay for the supporting infrastructure came out of the city’s Hospitality Tax funds, Caton said.

Caton used number crunchers from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau to come up with his economic benefit projections.

The projections also took into account where visitors came from. “The majority of them were from within a 50-mile radius,” Caton said. “People who were within the 50-mile radius wouldn’t use motels, but they would certainly use restaurants and purchase things from retail.”

Caton made his presentation to the city after being asked to by council member Leona Plaugh.

Mayor Steve Benjamin, the main supporter of the downtown rink, said, “That’s a great economic impact and incredible community building effort. It’s been a big plus.”

Another plus, Caton said, were the thousands of positive comments by visitors to the Main Street area.

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