December 27, 2011

The Little Ice Rink’s Big Day


The sun glinted on the virgin ice. Christopher Seiwald, founder and president of Perforce, stepped out with a microphone and addressed a crowd that stood around the perimeter of the Little Ice Rink at the corner of Park and Tilden Way. Seiwald began with a a few words describing how Park Street has been a hub for his 15-year-old company, founded in Alameda: "We started out down by South Shore, then moved up Park Street in a couple of buildings, and now we're across the way on Blanding. It's been a dream of ours for a few years to have an ice rink in Alameda. Thanks to the Perforce Foundation we were able to make it possible in record time."

Perforce ice skaters

Then Seiwald invited Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore to join him on to the ice. "We are very fortunate to have one company giving back to the community the way Perforce is. What a way for Perforce to give Alameda a Christmas gift of this Little Ice Rink," said Gilmore.

The grand opening on December 16 was that dream made real, and the location at the former Good Chevrolet lot on Park Street was indeed fortuitous. Cars slowed to watch and with each passing minute, dozens more people approached, curious or raring to skate.

After a few more formalities and a ribbon cutting by Gilmore and Seiwald, U.S. National Mens Bronze Medalist and U.S. Olympic Festival Champion Michael Chack took to the ice in a short-sleeve shirt and slacks and dazzled the audience with a choreographed routine. Several young female skaters followed him. Finally, it was time for the public to test the waters – and they did so in droves.

"This turnout is fantastic for a first day. We've never seen this many people," said Scott Williams, co-founder of Ice America, which creates temporary rinks for cities or even Hollywood parties. A former professional skater, he also produces entertainment such as the Brian Boitano TV skating special airing on NBC this Sunday. "This is such a happy side of the business," he said.

Little Ice Rink skaters

"I love living in Alameda! I love this ice rink -- I'm facebooking it right now," enthused Angel Williams, whose son Osiris was gamboling on the ice. "He brought the flyer home from school and we were so excited."

Gliding around the rink in a yellow Perforce jacket was Ken Carvalho, chief estimator for Buestad Construction. "I've got a lot of Perforce schwag. I built this rink in 30 days. That was breakneck speed," he said. The preparation for a rink includes a poured, level concrete slab and a transformer to handle the power needs of the refrigerant.

But the biggest force behind the successful project was Carrie Ewing, vice president of operations for Perforce. She's worked with Seiwald since the company's beginning, and she credits his can-do example and firm decision-making strategy for influencing her own style.

"We've had the idea of doing an ice rink for years," she said – and by we, she means herself. "It was my dream," she reluctantly admitted. "You go to the big cities and they have the seasonal ice rinks. You go to Yosemite and there's one there. I think it's cool, and kind of goofy. It's so happy."

Carvalho is a longtime collaborator with Perforce, who remodeled the "Perfortress" headquarters on Blanding. When he noted that the lot at Good Chevrolet was a good spot for a rink, Ewing googled, then phoned Ice America. Williams picked up the phone at 7 p.m. on November 5 and said, "we'll do it."

This is not a normal turnaround, Williams explained: "Normally we'd say plan nine months or a year in advance." But between the city of Alameda expediting permits, Perforce financing the construction, Buestad building out the site and Ice America bringing a top-quality, energy-efficient rink complete with skates, entertainment and a miniature resurfacer that's "not a golf-cart" – the Little Ice Rink was crystallized.

The old used car offices have even been temporarily transformed into a homey refreshment and gift shop, courtesy of The Little Café. A trio of flugelhorns serenaded a rainbow of revelers of every ethnicity as the sun set and the temperature dipped. Time stood still as skates scraped and children laughed.

"This rink isn't about Perforce or the city of Alameda, it's simply for families to enjoy," said Ewing. "I told my staff, look, if we can build an ice rink in three weeks, we can do anything! This is about having the resources, yes, but also it's about having reliable people like Ken who can do anything, and then about sheer determination."