Main Street Arena

Before its demolition, the Main Street Arena on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall was a favorite of hockey players, seen here in February 2018. The site will become the new Charlottesville Technology Center.

It’s encouraging to hear that plans for a new ice-skating rink are progressing.

Local skaters have been without a rink for a year and will have to wait another year for a replacement, if plans go well.

But at last they no longer will need to drive to Richmond or Lynchburg, the nearest rinks at present, in order to compete for ice time. The time and cost of commuting have been especially burdensome for ice sport competitors, such as hockey players and figure skaters — likely costing the University of Virginia women’s hockey team a chance to repeat as conference champions this year and the men’s team a chance to recruit players who want to matriculate at a top school like UVa but don’t want to face extra hardships in pursuing their sport.

The saga of the ice rink has been one of irony.

The rink opened on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall in 1996, striking many of us as an anomaly, if not a mistake.

Such skeptics were wrong. The rink helped solidify downtown Charlottesville’s growing reputation as an entertainment destination and added to the economic success of the mall.

It also proved that there was a previously hidden demand for ice sports. Hockey players, competitive ice skaters, recreational skaters and even curlers — practitioners of that endearing Olympic sport — came out to enjoy the ice.

And when the ice wasn’t needed, the space served as an entertainment site for concerts, exhibits and other events — such as hosting the local roller-derby team, the Derby Dames, who also lost their venue when the downtown rink closed.

With the exception of a brief period of economic uncertainty, the rink and its associated spaces and uses seemed to be contributing well to both the business and cultural foundation of the mall.

It certainly liberated an unexpected demand for ice sports and pleasure skating.

But in a sense, the ice park became a victim both of the mall’s success and of changing times.

The more economically successful the area became, the higher rose the prices of property, and businesses that could make more intensive use of downtown sites began putting pressure on older businesses (even those no older than 1996).

At the same time, Charlottesville’s reputation as a center for high-tech entrepreneurship took off, adding demand for a different sort of use. The site was purchased for construction of a high-tech, high-rise office building, and the skating rink was demolished.

But that didn’t demolish the demand for an ice-skating venue. Proponents were able to get together with developers of the new Brookhill mixed-use project on U.S. 29 and devise plans for a new skating facility to be built there.

Construction is planned to start in August, and by next May local skaters could be on local ice once again.

The group has raised $1.5 million of the $4 million in construction costs. That’s still a long way to go. But the group already has come a long way in a short time.

Good luck to them.

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