With the summer heat and rains upon us, it's time to escape to the great indoors.
One good place to chill is the Clearwater Ice Arena, at 13940 Icot Blvd.
The 22-year-old facility, formerly known as Sunblades, has undergone a series of renovations, including the installation of new ice, airbrushed wall murals and comfortable 60-degree temperatures.
"It's so much better now," said skating director Sharon Cook. "We have brand-new ice and a new chiller and dehumidifier which have taken it from a wet zone to a much drier and more pleasant environment.
"It's much lighter and brighter too," she added, noting that the dark blue walls are gone.
For two decades, the Wasilewski family owned the rink, which was built in 1986. But like a well-loved and well-worn pair of skates, it needed repairs.
Michael Malki, an entrepreneur who owns several gas and convenience stores in the area, became the new owner in February 2007. He leased the rink to Carol and Kevin Hubbart, figure skating parents, who then commissioned artist Mike Jenney to create several blue and white, Arctic-inspired wall murals featuring hidden pictures of figure skaters and snow creatures.
The couple's plans to run the rink and build a second Olympic-sized rink didn't materialize, though, and Malki took over operations in October 2007. That's when he gave the rink its new name.
He said he has invested "over a couple hundred thousand dollars" in the facility, including upgrades to the rink walls, or dasher boards, as they are called, the lighting, the sound system, the pro and snack shops, and the locker rooms.
"In general, it's just a much cleaner, nicer, more comfortable place to skate," he said.
Paul Hicks, whose son, Troy, and wife, Theresa, skate at the rink, appreciates the upgrades, particularly the new Plexiglas windows that surround the rink.
"We'd have a lot of trouble watching; you couldn't see through all the condensation," he said. "Now it's crystal clear."
Elizabeth Brudnicki, 14, of Clearwater said she loves the smoother ice.
"It's easier to do jumps because you don't have to look out for all the bumps," said Elizabeth, who has been skating at the rink for seven years.
"And I love the snack bar, too, because it has more foods and drinks. They even sell vitamin water now."
Times correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.