By Maddie Campbell
Not long after recovering from the harsh reality the COVID-19 pandemic posed for many businesses, Palm Beach Skate Zone was hit with another hardship.
On February 7, 2022, the storage facility adjacent to Skate Zone caught fire, causing extensive smoke and water damage to Skate Zone Rink 3.
“Everyone is overprotective of our rink. A lot of my coaches have been here a very long time … We have longevity in our arena. It’s home. When that happened it’s almost like it was our house,” said Palm Beach Skate Zone Figure Skating Director Audra Leech about how hard their skating community was hit by the damage.
Palm Beach Skate Zone is a multi-use skating facility in Palm Beach County, Florida. They offer an array of programs and entertainment such as public skating sessions, skating classes and camps, hockey classes and leagues, birthday party packages and family events. Their 75,000 square foot space is South Florida’s only three-surface facility, with amenities including cafes, game rooms, arcades, locker rooms and a full-service pro shop.
The idea for the space originated when the Palm Beach Vipers, a youth roller hockey team in the area, had no sufficient practice space. Families in the community rallied around the Vipers and financed a skating facility, which has since grown into a destination for figure skaters and hockey players alike.
“We’ve known these families for years since the kids were small,” said Leech, who has been coaching at Skate Zone since 2007. “That’s what it’s about, family … We’re raising families in the arena.”
Thankfully no one was at the venue when the tragedy occurred and there were no injuries. However, the entire building suffered smoke damage and would need to be closed for repairs and inspection. Their timeline for a full reopening of Rink 3, which suffered the worst damage, was approximately seven months. Rink 2 and Rink 1 reopened after five weeks and three weeks, respectively.
In the interim, Skate Zone staff, skaters and families were welcomed by other rinks in the area, giving back after Palm Beach Skate Zone had offered their space to coaches and skaters in the area whose rinks had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During COVID when we allowed coaches to come when they didn’t have ice, it was nice because we were able to open our doors to them,” Leech recalled. “When this happened to us, they returned the favor. We worked together; we came together. They welcomed us, just as we welcomed them.”
Since many of the coaches and skaters have essentially grown up in the facility, when it came time to help rebuild, the community support was unwavering.
“It brought all the families together. Everybody just came forth and said, ‘How can we help?’” Leech said.
The skaters and staff of Skate Zone worked tirelessly to bring their home ice back into operation. They persevered and were able to host their Annual South Florida Basic Skills Series Competition last June and reinstate the figure skating program, Learn to Skate classes and hockey summer camps.
Before long, it was time to start thinking about their summer show. The coaches began deliberation for a title for the show when one of their members proposed they call it the “Fire and Ice Show.”
“There were different feelings. At first, we were hesitant about it,” Leech said. “But we turned it around about being proud of growing. To take something that happened and turn it around into something beautiful and great, and how we all came together in our own arena, it was something special.”
With the theme of the ice show decided, the community was excited to be back in the venue. The Skate Zone’s biannual skating shows are always well-attended and their staff used the ice show to show gratitude to their community.
“The general managers, Debbie and Carlos Freitas, gave a speech welcoming and thanking all the families that came together and helped,” Leech said. “We just stood strong. We call it Skate Zone strong.”
It wasn’t an easy path to return the facility to its regular operation. Many community members and skaters alike joined in the cause to rebuild this town staple.
“We will always come back because we have a good family unit,” Leech stated. “Skate Zone is family and we always put it first.”
With the help of their Fire and Ice Show, and through plenty of community support, against the odds Skate Zone rose from the ashes and came back stronger than ever.