Why the beloved SJ ice rink won't return this holiday and what new experience is being 'rolled out'

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Thursday, October 6, 2022
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A beloved downtown San Jose ice rink will not be returning this season but organizers are reimagining the experience.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- There will be a significant change to a holiday tradition in San Jose. A beloved downtown ice rink will not be returning this season. Instead, organizers are reimagining the experience.

The San Jose Downtown Association confirmed on Wednesday, the Kristi Yamaguchi Downtown Ice rink will not be returning this year. Operating hours for the ice rink often coincided with Christmas in the Park, but the two weren't affiliated.

"The cost of running the chillers and maintaining the ice, and then building a deck for the ice rink... all were extra expenses," outgoing CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA), Scott Knies said.

Knies explained ice skating has been a holiday staple in the city since 1995. However, he said now it's time for a change.

Beginning in mid-November, the Circle of Palms will be the site of the Aloha Downtown Roller Rink.

SJDA is bringing in a local business owner to mirror the online momentum over roller skating.

"I think part of that is due to TikTok making it super popular," Liz Ruiz, owner of Aloha Fun Center at Eastridge Mall explained. "All these viral videos of people learning to skate and choosing this as their pandemic pastime to get out there and be active and try something new."

Ruiz is now working to turn the Aloha Downtown Roller Rink into reality. A former Silicon Valley Roller Girls derby player, Ruiz said skating has been a passion of hers since she was a kid.

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Now the pressure is on to get plans and permits together and to let the good times roll.

"Because what I'm doing is far less complicated," she compared to constructing an ice skating rink. "I actually am able to shave a whole month off of the construction time."

However, some worry the new experience may be too casual and won't carrying the sparkle of the holiday season.

"It doesn't go with everything else about Christmastime," Michael Hogan told ABC7 News. "Just, right here with Christmas in the Park. And having a roller rink, I think it's like some little kid's birthday party."

Ruiz is ready to rise to the occasion though, having originally come into the mall as a Christmas-themed pop-up years ago.

She also operated a mobile skate trailer for 8-years. Ruiz said she's done pop-ups at schools, libraries, corporate events, etc.

Still, she empathizes with the community losing something so dear.

"I got into this business because we lost our roller rink in town," she said. "I got into this and have gone through that heartbreak."

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Ruiz said there is an added element of accessibility and adaptability with roller skating, which would allow for more people to take part.

Knies with SJDA reassured, "Never say never! We are looking at doing a roller rink this year, but we still own all the ice rink equipment."

He said the ice rink has taken a year hiatus twice in its history. This included one year for a Cirque du Soleil performance and in 2020, due to the pandemic.

"We were all kind of just starting to get back to what it feels like to be going out again at that last holiday season," Knies said of 2021. "This holiday season, we're thinking people are ready."

Ruiz said she was first approached about a month ago with the idea. Currently, while she waits for permits, she's continuing to purchase needed supplies.

She said there will be aspects of the roller skating experience that may feel familiar.

"We're lucky to have some of the previous staff - who actually have been there, running the ice rink for decades- come along and do this transition with us," Ruiz told ABC7 News. "And take on the roller skating vibe. You know, the two industries are so similar."

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