Seasonal ice skating rink coming to Summerville next month

A mini winter wonderland is coming soon to downtown Summerville. The Summerville Town Council voted on Thursday night to give $130,000 of hospitality tax money to Summerville DREAM for the installation of a portable, seasonal ice skating rink.

The 40- by 80-foot unit is going up at 208 S. Cedar St. at the end of November. The location is near the intersection of W Richardson Avenue and South Cedar Street, close to the shops Cotton Down South and Laura Jones & Company. The ice skating rink, Summerville Skates, will stay in operation until the beginning of January. At the close of the holiday season, the unit will be packed up and removed.

Town Council members voted 4 to 3 in favor of moving forward with DREAM’s proposal and request for $130,000.

Several community members spoke out in favor of the idea during the town council meeting on Thursday. Diane Frankenburger, owner of People Places & Quilts, said she liked the idea and so did many of the other downtown merchants.

“There is a goodness around this,” Frankenburger said. “It’s been tried and successful in other places.”

Councilman Bob Jackson said he had initially been on the fence regarding the project but after hearing from downtown merchants who supported the idea, and especially after listening to Frankenburger describe the amount of taxes she pays to the town, he was swayed.

“I think we need to move forward and help out our merchants as best we can,” Jackson said.

Councilman Aaron Brown agreed with Jackson.

Councilwoman Kima Garten-Schmidt was the most vocal about her support of the idea. She said she along with Jackson met with Steven Doniger, the executive director of Summerville DREAM, and Doyle Best, director of parks and recreation for the town, to discuss the details of the project and she was assured that the lot could be made ready in time for the skating rink to operate this year.

Summerville DREAM has said the H-Tax money would be an “investment” rather than a grant, and the organization would pay back the $130,000 at the end of the skating season. Garten-Schmidt said while she hopes that is possible, for her the investment is more about boosting the downtown economy by drawing more people into the area who may shop and dine in addition to skating.

Councilman Walter Bailey said he had several procedural and substantive issues with the proposal. First he did not like that council members were not informed about the proposal sooner. Council members were all “caught by surprise,” when Doniger presented the idea on Oct. 7. Second, the proposal did not follow the defined process that all organizations must go through to apply for H-Tax money. And third, he said downtown Summerville is not the right place for temporary structures.

“This is a historic downtown Summerville, it’s not a theme park,” Bailey said.

Garten-Schmidt said the skating rink will look classy and it will be designed in a way that allows for some on site parking. She said the temporary skating rink would be great for the community.

“Sometimes things that happen at the last moment end up being the best,” Garten-Schmidt said.

Councilwoman Christine Czarnik said she liked the idea and could see it becoming an annual tradition that was appropriate for the downtown area.

Only she had an issue with DREAM not following the H-Tax application process. Additionally, she did not think Doniger’s estimation of how many would participate was accurate.

“This isn’t going to return what you think it’s going to return,” Czarnik said.

She suggested that DREAM pursue more sponsorships.

Councilman Bill McIntosh pointed out that the Town Council this year granted money to the Summerville Dorchester Museum outside of the normal H-Tax application process.

He said the request was distinct because the town doesn’t typically get applications from applicants who seek to return some of the investment to the town.

“There is a potential that this becomes a real tradition in Summerville and a real boon to our downtown merchants which is why DREAM exists, it’s why H-Tax fund balance exists,” McIntosh.

After the consideration passed with a vote of 4 to 3, audience members applauded the decision.

Doniger said he appreciated that the council gave the consideration a “good critical review.”

“The fact that they listened with open ears and gracious hearts was really the process that we were hoping for,” Doniger said. “We’re going to work really hard to make the town proud and to be able to provide the things we said we would be able to provide.”