People didn’t believe the ice could be real.
“It has to be plastic” was the common reaction, says Rachel Radawec, the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s placemaking and community engagement manager. An open-air ice skating rink in Tampa, Florida, is certainly cause for skepticism, but the Partnership has been making the now-annual tradition happen at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park since 2010. In 2016, the event expanded to become the Winter Village, including small pop-up retail shops, food and beverage options, and enhanced decor. This year’s event (which runs Nov. 17 through Jan. 5) is growing once again to allow for more of everything.
“We had one food and beverage operator last year, and we’re looking at three to five this year,” says Shaun Drinkard, the partnership’s director of placemaking.
“We have retailers returning, and we’re maintaining and expanding our partners list. More and more people want to get involved.”
While planning for the 2016 event didn’t really begin until about three months prior, Drinkard says planning for this year began the day last year’s Winter Village came down.
“We heard if you’re not done with your holiday event planning by July, you’re behind, and it’s true,” he says.
The village setup, which includes a 12,000 square-foot shade structure donated by the Glazer family and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Academy that houses the ice rink, takes 10 days to move into Curtis Hixon Park. In last year’s case, move-out was dictated by the arrival of the College Football Playoff National Championship; the Downtown Partnership had just 72 hours to tear down the Winter Village at the end of December to make room for the events surrounding the game.
Another challenge the Partnership has learned to overcome is maintaining the rink. Formerly set up right beside Ashley Drive, its new home is closer to the Hillsborough River, where Drinkard says there is an 18-inch difference in elevation between the land on each side of the rink. To compensate, the rink is built on
a perfectly level deck that allows airflow underneath to help keep the ice cold. The shade structure helps protect the ice from wind and moisture, the two biggest hurdles.
“We’re always learning how to deal with the elements and trying to perfect the quality of the ice,” Drinkard says. “The lack of humidity in the late fall makes it easier, but we’re expanding the limits of an open-air ice rink.”
With the Winter Village as its centerpiece, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is pushing the holiday experience into the surrounding downtown area more than ever. On Sunday afternoons during the event, a TECO Streetcar will run as the Winter Village Express between Centro Ybor and the Whiting Street Station, where a marked path will lead visitors to Curtis Hixon Park. Monthly events like Rock the Park and Fourth Friday will be integrated into the Winter Village, while the Tampa Theatre (which will close in November and December for renovations) is hosting its annual Holiday Classics movie series for free in the park.
“As we’ve started to establish this brand and experience, we want cultural institutions and businesses to add their ideas,” says the Partnership’s Rachel Radawec. “People hear the word ‘village,’ and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”
The Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park (600 N. Ashley Drive) opens Nov. 17 and runs through Jan. 5. Hours vary and will be extended during Hillsborough County school breaks. Find a list of vendors and learn more at WinterVillageTampa.com.