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How do you make an ice rink on a beach in St. Petersburg? Builders explain.

Visitors to the St. Pete Pier will be able to put on ice skates and glide around a waterfront rink built next to Spa Beach.
Lendo Snipes Jr., 52, right, owner and operator of Brainstorm Truckers, delivers mats of tubing that will distribute glycol to make ice at the rink. At left is Robert Perry, 20, the venue manager for Ice Rink Events. The nearly 4,000-square-foot rink will be set up next to Spa Beach Park. The rink will be open Nov. 20-Jan. 17.
Lendo Snipes Jr., 52, right, owner and operator of Brainstorm Truckers, delivers mats of tubing that will distribute glycol to make ice at the rink. At left is Robert Perry, 20, the venue manager for Ice Rink Events. The nearly 4,000-square-foot rink will be set up next to Spa Beach Park. The rink will be open Nov. 20-Jan. 17. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Nov. 17
Updated Nov. 17

On a recent November afternoon, it was 81 degrees as workers in short sleeves prepared the space for an ice rink on Spa Beach at the approach to the St. Pete Pier.

“It’s crazy isn’t it?” said Christopher Beck, the food and beverage manager for the Pier’s events. He was in a tank top as he set up the large tent where snacks will be doled out after visitors finish ice skating. While hot chocolate and other typical holiday fare will be on hand for Winter Beach when it opens this weekend, there will be ice cream on the menu as well. Because this is still Florida.

Related: There are 4 seasonal ice skating rinks in the Tampa Bay area this holiday season

The Pier organizers expect to attract 20,000 skaters over the 59-day run of Winter Beach, which will have a nearly 4,000-square-foot ice rink as the centerpiece. It also will have an adjacent shopping village, food and holiday events.

The city budgeted $435,000 to build Winter Beach and expects to make that up, and possibly earn a profit, from ticket sales and sponsorships, said Chris Ballestra, managing director of development for the city, which overseas facilities such as the Pier and Mahaffey Theater.

The ice rink will be 97 feet long and 40 feet wide, about half the size of an NHL hockey rink. That’s about half the size of the famous ice rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City, which is 122 feet long and 59 feet wide.

How does the ice not melt from the Florida sun and the friction of skaters?

Robert Perry, 20, the venue manager for Ice Rink Events, poses in early November at a rink being set up next to Spa Beach Park. 80 tons of sand was brought in to make the base that the nearly 4,000-square-foot rink rests on. It will be open Nov. 20-Jan. 17.
Robert Perry, 20, the venue manager for Ice Rink Events, poses in early November at a rink being set up next to Spa Beach Park. 80 tons of sand was brought in to make the base that the nearly 4,000-square-foot rink rests on. It will be open Nov. 20-Jan. 17. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

It starts with a sandbox. Builders trucked in 80 tons of sand and set up the base of the ice rink in a huge tent with windows looking out onto the bay.

Next, they laid closely spaced mats and tubes filled with glycol, a food-safe antifreeze coolant.

Starting 10 days before the rink opens, the area was sprayed with water each night to form a thin but firm layer of ice. When finished, the ice rink will be about 3 inches thick.

Tent flaps will sometimes be open, but wind is a bigger enemy than the sun, said Andy Muka, the project manager for Ice Rink Events, the company hired to build and run the Pier rink. It’s the same company that has put an ice rink in Curtis Hixon Park every December since 2010. They are also building the ice rink at Tropicana Field for Enchant Christmas, which opens Nov. 26.

Tubes filled with the coolant glycol freeze the layers of water sprayed onto the ice rink at the St. Pete Pier. When finished, the rink's ice will be about 3 inches thick.
Tubes filled with the coolant glycol freeze the layers of water sprayed onto the ice rink at the St. Pete Pier. When finished, the rink's ice will be about 3 inches thick. [ Pier Events ]
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“Wind accelerates evaporation, so being on a windy beach is something we need to work around,” Muka said. “This beach spot is surprisingly cool, temperature-wise.”

Thanks to this construction, the ice stays solid even if the temperature climbs, Muka said.

“We can handle even 85 degrees if there’s no wind,” Muka said. They would close the tent when there’s inclement weather and the cold air would be contained inside.

Supply-chain issues were an early concern, so Muka said he ordered materials earlier than normal. Good thing. Hundreds of ice skates he ordered in July didn’t arrive until October.

There will be a ribbon-cutting at 3 p.m. Saturday and the grand opening skate session will be 4-9 p.m. The rink will be open daily through Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17.

The cost is $17, which includes skate rental for 75 minutes. You can buy tickets and reserve a skate time online at winterbeachstpete.com/ice-skating. Organizers are limiting capacity to help visitors with social distancing.

It will be free to stroll around Winter Beach, where a holiday market is set up with local vendors, artists and food for sale, from hot cocoa to smoked turkey legs.

Having a real ice rink has been a longtime goal of the city, Ballestra said. There was one put up at Albert Whitted Park in 2018 over the holidays, but that was a little off the beaten path. The idea was tabled last Christmas due to the pandemic, he said.