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Flooded again, owner of popular skating center pledges to reopen by fall


It was about 9 p.m. Aug. 3, and Jim Balay was in the Bahamas tending to his water sports business when he got a text from his air-conditioning guy back in the States.

David Koerner had pulled by SpinNations Skating Center to check on the roller rink and found the parking lot under water — again.

"Can you get a look inside the building, send a picture?" Balay wanted to know.

A few minutes later, he held the evidence in the palm of his hand — a screen shot showing water lapping at the axles of Koerner's pickup and flowing right through the front door.

"I knew right then it was gone," Balay said.

He called his insurance company, trash bin company and booked a flight to Tampa.

After three years and 10 coats of polyurethane — the last poured on Mother's Day — the 18,000-square-foot Northern hard rock maple skating floor was near perfect.

"It was gorgeous," Balay said of the floor, which had been laid with a fantail pattern after Tropical Storm Debby in 2012.

Repairs for that flood came in at about $400,000, Balay said, adding that he's looking at about a half-million this time around.

"This time was worse. There was 7 to 8 inches in places," he said. "People were kayaking in here."

Pasco County Emergency Management officials say that about three dozen businesses on the west side of the county were damaged during the recent flooding.

Structural damage as well as operational losses run from under $100,000 to $500,000 per business, according to Melanie Kendrick, acting program administrator for the county's Office of Economic Growth.

It was three days before the water ebbed at SpinNations and Balay could get to work, logging six hours with a bum knee on a Bobcat to tear up the buckled floor. It took another five days to haul out all of the material.

It felt like another day at the office for Balay, who oversaw the building of schools, banks, post offices and the like while running three construction businesses in his home state of Pennsylvania.

"We got everything that was wet right out of here — that's the trick," he said while resting on the concrete floor of his gutted rink. "There's $200,000 plus sitting out in dumpsters."

Balay's deductible on his flood insurance is $2,500.

He's out in other ways as well.

"We have no business interruption insurance, so I've been putting in 16 to 18 hours a day trying to get back in business," he said. "Summer is a busy time for us, and they don't give you nothing for lost income — nothing for the electric bill."

And that's going to be another big bill when you figure in the nine commercial dehumidifiers and 19 fans that were running 24/7 to dry out the place.

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Summer youth programs, skate nights and birthday parties at the popular rink have been canceled. Speed and artistic skaters who regularly rent practice hours have been displaced.

"I almost cried when I saw the pictures of all the damage on Facebook," said Angela Serini, secretary, treasurer and publicist for the Florida Skating Academy and secretary for the Southern Region USA Roller Sports organization. "It is a premiere rink in Florida. Every time we have an event there, I have people that come up to me and tell me this is the best floor they have ever skated on."

The rink is also prone to flooding.

Water has washed in eight times — twice disastrously — since Balay bought the place for $600,000 in 1998 for his wife, Rhoda, and daughter, Tiffany, both of whom skated competitively in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Rainwater flows downhill off Ridge Road and Congress Street, Balay said. Add to that runoff from a retention pond directly to the west, and the swamp wetlands south of the rink and the pumping from a defunct golf course.

"We're at the bottom of the fishbowl. There's nothing we can do to prevent this from happening again," Balay said.

Balay asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pony up an additional $40,000 for concrete so he could raise the floor 8 to 10 inches.

"That way they wouldn't have to replace the floor next time around — just the carpet," Balay said. "But they said no. So what can I do? Just roll with it I guess."

Even so, there's a silver lining.

"The good news is I put a lot of local people that were out of work to work," Balay said, adding that he has hired about 20 people, including skilled craftsmen, to help with restorations and improvements, which will include a larger lobby and gift shop, a new skate room and benches, a teen party room and an expanded seating area for parents. Add to that the bid won by a local company for the new skating floor, along with the 2,000 yards of carpet, 1,100 sheets of plywood, gallons of fluorescent paint and other materials purchased locally.

Barring any complications, Balay plans to reopen for business in mid September or early October.

"We will be ready for the big Christmas show and the major roller competitions in February," he promised before heading back to work.

"I'm a business. I employ people. And if I don't get running, they don't work," he said. "But every day we walk out of here, we're closer to opening up again."

Contact Michele Miller at or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.