TAMPA — Polar opposites happened downtown Wednesday: The mercury hit 80 degrees. And workers unloaded an outdoor ice skating rink.
Soon, Tampa denizens will be ice skating in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park — under palm trees, but nonetheless reminiscing about hot chocolate and bundling up for skating up North.
"This brings back memories," said Joyce Gerardi of Valrico, visiting the park with a group from First Baptist Church of Brandon.
Workers began setting up the rink under a white tent designed to keep ice from melting.
Gerardi's friend Bonnie Braden, 63, said she still has the white leather skates she wore as a teen and decorated with pompoms made of yarn.
Both women grew up in New York. They would wrap themselves in thermal underwear, ski wear, gloves and scarves to go out skating on neighboring ponds or their own back yards.
At Christmas, Braden would skate in Rockefeller Center.
Once, when the ice on a nearby pond had caved in, Gerardi's father had jumped in and pulled people out, she remembered.
They often skated to exhaustion, Gerardi said.
"I couldn't wait to take my skates off and sit by a fireplace with hot chocolate," she said.
As work on the rink continued, the two women demonstrated how to swing a fellow skater in circles at the end of a scarf — tempting their friend Janis Vittoe, 42, who grew up in Tampa and has never seen snow.
"I just might," she asked when asked if she'd try it. "It sounds like a Hallmark movie."
Patrick Smith brought the rink on his truck from Texas. Smith, from Melbourne, had hauled a little bit of everything over the 29 years he has been driving. Yet he could hardly believe this load.
"When they told me it's an ice skating rink, I said: 'In Tampa? You got to be kidding me.' "
Ice Rink Events sets up outdoor rinks across the United States. The company will cover the costs to install and operate the rink. It keeps the $10 fee for 90 minutes of skating.
"It's a real sheet of ice," said J.R. Malone, the venue manager. The 44- by 100-foot rink will be made of sand, a sheet of plastic and tubes filled with a substance colder than freezing, which will circulate through a chiller.
The tent will be opened to the street on days with little wind.
Donations from the nonprofit Friends of Tampa Recreation will cover most of the city's costs. The biggest will be electric bills.
Kenny Brewer, of Ice Rink Events, watched as a co-worker unloaded 4,000 pounds of rubber mats, used to keep ice skates from dulling on concrete.
He carried rolls of plastic grass carpet for the entrance area.
Brewer, 55, grew up in Indiana and remembers skating on fish hatchery ponds with a propane heater set in the center. He skated in circles, while several inches below him swam orange goldfish and black mollies.
Twelve-year-old Meredith Cook, at the park with a teacher from Tampa Preparatory School, couldn't believe the news.
"Who would think an ice skating rink is possible in Tampa?" Meredith asked.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.