Area ice sports enthusiasts could be skating on thick ice come May, when a new ice arena is expected to open in the developing Brookhill subdivision in northern Albemarle County.
Construction is expected to begin in August on the Cville Ice Park, a 36,000-square-foot, energy-efficient, full-size ice rink planned in the subdivision off U.S. 29 near Polo Grounds Road. The rink is slated to open in May.
The rink will be home ice for the University of Virginia men’s and women’s hockey club teams, as well as the James Madison University teams. It also will provide ice for regional figure skaters, youth and adult hockey leagues and curling clubs, as well as public skating.
The rink is being built and will be operated by Friends of Charlottesville Ice Park, a nonprofit organization formed when the Main Street Arena on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall was sold in 2017 and shuttered in 2018.
“After the Main Street Arena was bought, four local businessmen who are part of our hockey leagues stepped in to keep the ice rink open for another year,” said Jill Grant, fundraising consultant and spokeswoman for the Friends organization. “They started talking with the people at Brookhill about a new rink, and it seemed like a win-win across the board.”
The organization will own the building and the property and will pay rent to the subdivision developer for parking spaces.
The Friends group has raised $1.5 million of the $4 million in construction costs. The total price tag for the park is expected to reach $5.6 million.
The founders put money where their hopes are, contributing $400,000 to the park, as well as the profits from operating the Main Street Arena for its final year of operations.
UVa and JMU alumni and hockey clubs are helping with fundraising and contributions as are other individuals and community groups. The organization also is working with lenders to pay costs not covered through donations.
After a year operating the downtown arena, the nonprofit’s leaders believed the area would support a rink.
“They’ve been involved in the ice hockey leagues and growth of interest in the area and they really felt this was the right move,” Grant said. “The community’s response to this ice park has been overwhelming.”
Area skaters say they are pleased, excited and relieved that an ice rink is coming back to the region. They said that after the downtown location closed, they’ve spent the past year driving to either Lynchburg or Richmond to find ice time.
It hasn’t been easy.
“The lack of rink time and access was a detriment to the overall team,” said Kelly Townsend, president of the UVa Women’s Hockey team. “Financially, there were not enough resources to field a team for the entire season because so much money went to travel costs.”
The team did well when there was a rink in Charlottesville, winning the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championship in 2018.
But the team couldn’t compete in the league playoffs this year because the club’s travel funds had been spent driving to Richmond for practices and home games.
“Because of the distance for practice in Richmond, we were only able to get one new player and lost three players because we couldn’t be as competitive without rink access and practice time,” she said.
Other skaters say they are encouraged that a new rink is being built.
“I’m very hopeful about the new rink in Charlottesville. There’s an active skating community without a home here right now,” said Jeni Crockett-Holme, a gold-level ice dancer, U.S. Figure Skating judge and a member of the Richmond Figure Skating Club and competitive synchronized skating team.
“It’s encouraging that the current owners are generating excitement about the new facility and fostering relationships with all of the skating disciplines,” she said. “The local kids I skated with in 2008 have grown up to become figure skating coaches in their own right who I think would be happy to teach closer to home.”
Colin Davis, UVa men’s hockey coach, said the rink will help to recruit more players for the university’s growing programs.
“Having an ice rink in town is going to be better for us. It’s hard to get ice time in Richmond,” he said. “The men’s league has grown quite a bit and the UVa team has had tryouts with more than 50 people every year. We have a handful of students who played Division 1 NCAA hockey and they said they wanted to come to UVa where they could get a better education and still play good hockey.”
Opened in 1996 as the Charlottesville Ice Park, the downtown establishment was part of a $14 million development that occupied the sites of an old furniture store and a city parking lot.
In addition to the ice rink, the project included a multi-screen theater complex, which now houses Violet Crown Charlottesville, and retail and business space.
The rink proved popular and helped to establish the Downtown Mall as an entertainment destination. After closing for a short stint due to financial issues, it was purchased in 2010 by Mark Brown and reopened as Main Street Arena.
The venue became the home of hockey leagues, figure skaters and curlers until it was purchased by investors for $5.7 million with the intent to build a high-tech office building on the site.
The rink officially closed in May 2018 and demolition began in February of this year. That left locals a choice of giving up their sports or driving 140 miles to either Richmond or Lynchburg and back.
Some skaters said they have been driving the distance as much as three times a week to get ice time, leaving at 5 a.m. to drive to a rink, skate and return to Charlottesville for work at 9 a.m.
“I can’t even find the words to describe how happy I’ll be to finally have a rink in Charlottesville again,” said Megan Rowe, of Charlottesville, who said her skating is a personal passion. “I’d spend my weekends when I’m not skating digging the hole in the ground myself if it would get that rink up faster.”
Grant said local skating organizations are helping the nonprofit to raise funds for the rink.
“The groups have been coming to us and saying they want to be a part of it, and that’s an indication that there is a demand,” she said. “These next 11 months are going to go quickly.”