Heated rallies melt plans for this year's plaza ice rink

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Heated rallies melt plans for this year's plaza ice rink

Instead of seeing throngs of skaters sliding hand-in-hand at the signature ice rink at Seoul Plaza, a common winter scene near the Seoul Metropolitan Government for more than a decade, passersby on Thursday were greeted with an empty field and muddy grass.

The ice rink project was scrapped this year for the first time in 12 years because of the weekly anti-Park Geun-hye rallies.

“Given that the mass rallies will continue to take place in and around Seoul Plaza,” the city government said in its press release, “the Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to cancel this year’s ice rink event.”

“The city government considered changing the location of the ice rink just for this year,” said Lee Jeong-woo, an official at the Sports Policy Division of the city government. “We thought about the Seoul Sports Complex, the Seoul Children’s Grand Park, the Jangchungdan Park and two more venues.”

He added, “But after running new quotas on construction costs and timing, we found that it will take some six weeks to build an ice rink at these locations, which will mean the ice rink event will have to commence sometime in January, after the holidays, which is the peak season. So we decided to cancel the event this year.”

But the cancellation comes at a cost to the city government.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been hosting the ice skating festival for 12 years from 2004, and has not missed a year until this year.

The festival has drawn a total of 2.34 million people since it first opened in 2004 and raked in an yearly average of roughly 195 million won ($162,600) via the 1,000 won entrance fee, according to the city government.

“We won a total of 1.25 billion won as budget for the event, and while we have not commenced construction, the construction companies have for weeks procured materials thinking they’d be building an ice rink at the plaza,” Lee said. “So the city government is balancing accounts with these companies.”

An annual Christmas market held in Seoul Plaza last year was also moved to the Yeouido Hangang Park in western Seoul.

“We decided to move the location this year due to the rallies,” said Moon Hee-jung, an official at the Creative Economy Planning Bureau of the city government.

“We focused our efforts on advertising the event because less people pass by the Yeouido Hangang Park than they do Seoul Plaza.”

She added, “Especially during winter, it is more difficult to host events near the Han River, where temperatures drop further, but for this we prepared 144 booths, including 36 food trucks, inside a huge tent, so people will be able to shop and enjoy the food away from the wintry gales.”

The market will be open until Dec. 31, from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

In addition to shopping for Christmas gifts among the handmade products, visitors can listen to live carols played by a band and take one-day classes on DIY Christmas wreaths, holiday cards and tapestries to hang at home.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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