Ice Advocates Say Rink Will Fill Void In Roanoke

Dr. Skelton with players at Conference.

by Valerie Garner

Dr. Matt Skelton, co-vice president of Roanoke Valley Ice Advocates, a non-profit organization, said Monday that they are still searching for a location for an ice rink. It could be in the city, county or wherever they can be accommodated.

They’ve already looked at locations including city-owned Countryside Golf Course according to an official and a Northwest Recreation Center associate. NRC currently has the favor of Roanoke City Council for the recreational portion of the old golf course property enshrined by council in a neighborhood Master Plan.

An enthusiastic Mayor Bowers said he considers the venture to be an economic boon to the Roanoke Valley. Bowers and Councilman Sherman Lea both support it. The advocacy group is mostly made up of skaters, hockey players or coaches like Pierre Paiement and Claude Piche, college representatives, Brian and Andee Wishneff and Mac McCadden explained Terri Skelton. The Skeltons have several young boys in youth hockey.

Terri Skelton said that, “We are just in the early stages of our fund-raising efforts. To kick a campaign off properly we really need the site portion figured out.”

When asked if the city might incentivize the project to ensure the ice rink is located in the city, Bowers said that the group had not asked for incentives but he would be amicable to offering them a carrot. Later in a phone call Mac McCadden, a vice-principal at Forest Park Academy, confirmed they were looking for a gift of land from a locality. McCadden said they had looked at several good buildings and had some interest in the golf course property.

McCadden said he was pulled into the group because his son was an award-wining hockey player. McCadden’s primary reason for involvement now is to reach inner city kids and to “break down some cultural barriers that we have here in Roanoke – the stigma that [hockey] is not for all one race but is for everybody.” He also saw other opportunities for the rink like a business that would sell hockey equipment.

Bowers said “before we can think of having an ice hockey team come back to Roanoke, which is what our citizens ask for – we have to have an ice rink separate from the civic center for these teams to practice on.” Bowers said he had met with Mike Chighisola with the Northern Professional Hockey League and Chighisola wants to bring ice hockey back to Roanoke. (See related article in Sports.)

Though a professional hockey team is not a prerequisite for building the rink it would be a plus. Dr. Skelton said the project would not fail as the Ice Station did in 2006. The plan is to completely finance the facility with donations and fundraisers. The rink would start with no debt he said.

The ice rink would support the Valley Youth Hockey Association that has 138 kids participating. The group once had over 400 members when an ice rink was available. Dr. Skelton said that figure skating was also underdeveloped in Roanoke. His wife Terri is a former competitive ice skater.

Other users of the ice rink would be the Roanoke No Check Hockey League, Roanoke Valley Adult Hockey Association, Rusty Blades (over 45) and colleges – Virginia Tech, Radford University, Roanoke College and possibly Washington and Lee. College teams presently have to travel to Lynchburg’s Liberty University, Charlottesville or Greensboro North Carolina to get their full practice time. Ice is only available at the Roanoke Civic Center from September to January.

The new rink would serve the community and include figure skating, synchronized skating, speed skating and recreational skating, “where people can have fun and exercise,” said Dr. Skelton. The group estimates that over $40,000 would be pumped into the local economy with each hockey tournament and that when not iced over the facility could serve as a home for indoor soccer, lacrosse and other athletic activities.

“We have done our homework and studied previous ice-related failures as well as successful rink operations outside the Valley,” said Dr. Skelton. “We are convinced the market is there, the support is there and the enthusiasm is there to run a popular and profitable ice rink.”

Monday other members of Roanoke City Council will get a chance to see a presentation by the advocacy group. The group can’t go forward until “council as a whole is willing to pursue it,” said McCadden.