Future demolition of ice rink creates uncertainty for student groups

After being bought for $5.7 million, Main Street Arena slated to be redeveloped into the Charlottesville Technology Center

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The Main Street Arena is located on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall.

Karen Chen | Cavalier Daily

With demolishment plans recently approved, the Main Street Arena is slated to become a new office space on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. The arena, which is home to the city’s only public ice rink, is used by several University organizations who must now plan for the future.

In a March 2 press release, Payne, Ross & Associates announced the arena was under the new ownership of Jaffray Woodriff and Taliaferro Junction, LLC. The owners plan to turn the large property into a space with “iconic architectural design.”

April 18, the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review approved the demolition of the arena and Escafé, an LGBTQ-friendly bar and restaurant.

The properties slated for redevelopment include the skating rink, as well as the local concert venue The Ante Room and Escafé.

Many student groups use this space on a regular basis. The men’s and women’s club ice hockey teams practice at the rink, as well as club figure skating. Without the ice skating rink, the future of these groups is now in question.

History of the arena

The ice rink first opened in 1996, and struggled to turn a profit for years.

In July 2010, local real estate investor Mark Brown bought the rink for $3 million. He helped make the space more profitable and placed it on the market last September for $6.5 million.

In March, it was announced that Woodriff and Taliaferro Junction had purchased the arena for $5.7 million.

Escafé will also be demolished as part of the project. The restaurant and bar were previously at a different location downtown before moving into its current Water Street home, which is a part of the Main Street Arena complex. Escafé has been a hangout space for the LGBTQ community since its inception.

Third-year Engineering student Dominic Ritchey said Escafé provided a safe and necessary space for the LGBTQ community. Ritchey said he hopes Escafé will find a new location, preferably closer to Grounds.

“I can’t speak for all gay people,” Ritchey said. “But the closing of Escafé is really sad for me. It was frequently visited by many students and locals of all genders and sexualities.”

An April 20 release from the Blue Ridge Group provided more details about future plans for the property. The new development will be called the Charlottesville Technology Center.

“The development concept for this multi-use office building includes flexible space for existing local technology companies,” Payne said in the press release. “The building design will include retail space and also support the incubation and development of startups in areas including software, hardware, biotech and data science.”

The release also says a preliminary site plan is expected to be submitted July 1, with a final plan expected by Oct. 1. Demolition will begin sometime in 2018 and will take approximately three weeks.

“[Woodriff] intends that the building will foster talented developers and energized entrepreneurs by creating office space conducive of collaboration, mentorship and the scalability of startups,” the release said. “Ultimately the building will serve as a statement about the already vibrant startup community in Charlottesville as well as its potential for the future.”

Student groups face uncertainty

Raffi Keuroglian, a fourth-year College student and former president of men’s club ice hockey, said he had heard rumors of the rink closing for a while before the demolition was announced.

“I had heard a few rumblings about it going back to early last year so it didn’t really take me too much by surprise,” Keuroglian said.

Keuroglian said in the short term, there is not too much for the team to worry about since the rink will still be around for the beginning of next season. However, if there is no new rink by the time of the demolition, the team would have to travel.

“We would probably have to travel to Richmond, so [it’s] not particularly close.” Keuroglian said. “But then again, [James Madison University] had to use our rink and that is 45 minutes away so I guess that’s about the same amount of distance.”

When asked if this travel would be sustainable, Keuroglian said yes, but he also said he hopes a new rink is opened locally so that travel doesn’t become a long-term challenge for the team.

“For a season it could be,” Keuroglian said. “I’m not sure how that would be long-term, we would have to experiment with that. We really hope it won’t be a long-term issue though.”

Joyce Chow, a second-year College student and incoming treasurer for club figure skating, said she was surprised to hear the rink is actually closing, and finds it to be a valuable part of Charlottesville.

“I feel like every few years, they say the rink is closing,” Chow said. “I think it is a very unique part of Charlottesville, and it collects a very interesting group of teams and people.”

Chow doesn’t believe the figure skating team of roughly 20 students could continue if there is no ice skating rink in Charlottesville.

“If it closes, I think that is the end,” Chow said.

When asked about the possibility of traveling for practice, Chow didn’t think a long commute would be feasible for the team.

“I have no idea where the closest rink is,” Chow said. “I don’t think [traveling] is worth it since we don’t practice more than once a week.”

What comes next?

With the construction slated to begin in 2018, the futures of the teams are uncertain.

Keuroglian speculated that a new ice skating rink will open in Charlottesville.

“Most of our guys are hopeful that there will be a new skating rink in the future,” Keuroglian said. “We have heard there are people looking to build a new rink.”

The March 2 press release said Woodriff plans to donate all of the ice park materials and equipments to anyone who is “seeking to get a new ice skating park up and running in a new location.”

It is also unclear how long Escafé and the Ante Room have left to operate or if they will be able to stay open through the fall while the architectural plans are being finalized.

Escafé’s owner Ted Howard told the Board of Architectural Review that the bar “can and will move.” Howard said Escafé will remain open until the patrons say otherwise. The owner of the Ante Room has also said he will look for a new space.

The ice skating rink is expected to reopen after the summer for one final season. 

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