A proposed ice park in northern Albemarle County now will not be completed until the end of 2020 at the earliest.
Originally, construction was expected to begin in August and finish this May in the new Brookhill subdivision off U.S. 29 near Polo Grounds Road, but now it’s unclear when the proposed 36,000-square-foot, full-size ice rink will open.
“What has been challenging with this project is we have so many different ice communities, many have stepped up, and we’ve got a couple of communities that we’re still working with to tap into their networks, so that’s taking a little bit longer than we anticipated,” said Jill Grant, fundraising consultant and spokeswoman for the Friends of Charlottesville Ice Park organization.
The nonprofit organization formed when the Main Street Arena on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall was sold in 2017 and closed in 2018. The group is building the new Brookhill rink, which is estimated to cost $5.6 million, and plans to operate it.
Grant said the organization has received almost 400 gifts and pledges totaling $3.3 million, but is still “a few hundred thousand dollars from breaking ground.”
“We are not going to delay this at all once we have the funding we need,” she said. “Then from there, it’s really going to be about a 10-month turnaround to build the rink.”
Adam Hall, a Friends of Charlottesville Ice Park board member, said he got involved because he wanted to help the community, as his son played youth hockey and went on to play in college.
“Not having a rink here just seems like a wasted opportunity for all the next generation of kids,” he said.
Hall said that the organization also is working to create programming for people with developmental disabilities as well as for groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the local Boys and Girls Club.
“We set it up as a 501©3 because this is a community asset,” he said. “None of us have any interest in making a dime off of this. Hopefully it’s a not for profit that runs at a profit so we can take that money reinvested in more programs.”
The organization proposed an initial timeline for building and opening the rink based on the fastest possible timeframe for county permits and land clearing, Hall said. He also said it may have had uninformed expectations when it came to fundraising.
“It’s been a little more difficult to raise the money than we thought, but we don’t do this and so we didn’t really know what to think,” he said. “The reason why we hired Jill now is because all of us have full time jobs and don’t really have a lot of experience raising big sums of money.”
Jeff Lysiak, president and coach with the Blue Ridge Ice Hockey Association, said not having a rink in Charlottesville has “really decimated” the youth program.
“We played in the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League, and when we had a rink here in town we had teams at basically every level,” he said. “…When we lost the rink, we lost a lot of players to Richmond because they have a pretty big hockey program, and some just stopped playing hockey, like the older kids. So this past year we were only able to field the U14, the Bantam level, hockey team.”
Players on this season’s team have been traveling to LaHaye Ice Center in Lynchburg once a week to practice. They only played in four tournaments this season, but won their division in two of the tournaments. BRIHA wants to also get a U16 team together for next season.
“Even though we have a very small team, composed of players from all over … they did super well, they did great,” Lysiak said.
He said he thinks it’s short-sighted that there isn’t a rink built by an institution in the area such as the University of Virginia.
“We just got a couple of emails directed towards BRIHA the other day of, ‘I’m thinking of moving to Charlottesville’ or ‘I am moving to Charlottesville. My son or daughter plays hockey, what do you recommend?’” Lysiak said. “We’re a travel program, we really need a rink to address these things.”
A group of UVa hockey alumni, former coaches and supporters called “Committee for Home Ice,” have discussed building a rink on Grounds. A 2018 news release said more than $1 million dollars has been pledged to the project, which would require at least $6 million.
Roger Voisinet, a former coach and committee member, said he wasn’t able to talk about the on-Grounds effort at this time.