Ice, ice, maybe: Can a Park deal be struck before it's too late?

news-icepark-medThe rink was officially opened on May 1, 1996. It will officially close on June 30 unless a buyer steps up.

In spite of increasingly urgent negotiations with an unnamed "interested party," the owners of the Charlottesville Ice Park say they're still planning to close on June 30, leading some to fear the effect of another vacant behemoth on the Mall's economy.

"Time is rather short now," says Ice Park co-owner Roberta Williamson, noting that the sale of the Ice Park's large equipment, including the ice-smoothing Zamboni, would need to happen quickly since buyers of such tools typically want to make purchases before fall.

Seven years ago, Williamson and then husband Bruce Williamson and two other partners (both of whom have since bowed out) purchased the Ice Park in a widely lauded move even as skeptics wondered how they could do something the original owners, developers Colin Rolph and Lee Danielson, had been unable to do: turn a profit.

"This is not a facility that's doomed to lose money," insisted Bruce Williamson when the purchase was first announced in May 2003. "We looked at the numbers."

Unfortunately, his prediction of financial success didn't come true.

"We spent $850,000 keeping it open over the last five years," says Roberta Williamson, noting that the asking price of $4.1 million–- announced in February–- "doesn't cover the expenditure that we made."

She and Bruce (who divorced several years ago but remain amicable business partners), quickly understood that the venture would be difficult to sustain.

"We  realized we'd have to brace ourselves and spend our own money in order to keep it open," she says. "In that way, we feel it's been a donation to the community, in particular to asthmatic kids and adults crazed enough to play hockey into their 50s."

But their doing so indefinitely is not an option.

"We're not indefinitely wealthy," she says. "We have probably much more limited means than people think."

Since the sale was announced, numerous parties expressed initial interest in purchasing the building and the business, but things like a $15,000 July electric bill have deterred many would-be buyers. But not all.

Roger Voisinet, founder and former coach of the UVA men's ice hockey club team, wants a chance.

"I've been skating my whole life," says Voisinet, who adds that he and the team will be "crushed" by the closure. In fact, Voisinet and three partners, whose identities he declines to reveal, got as far as writing a "letter of intent" expressing interest in making a lease or purchase deal with the Williamsons. Both parties signed confidentiality agreements and cannot discuss the terms of any offer or negotiation, but in mid-May Voisinet described himself as hopeful for a "win-win."

On May 26, however, Bruce Williamson made it clear that a compromise had not been reached.

"We are not negotiating with Roger Voisinet," he says, when asked about an "interested party" he mentions but whom he declines to identify.

Could it be UVA? University spokesperson Carol Wood says no.

"Given the economy and the budget and everything, we would not be interested in acquiring it," says Wood.

That doesn't stop Voisinet and members of the school's men's and women's club hockey teams from wishing the school–- which erected 134 buildings during its outgoing president's term–- would step in to help save the ice park.

"Ideally, UVA would be more supportive," says fourth year women's hockey player Rebecca Moreno, who says the school does chip in on equipment and a portion of ice rental time–- at $185 per hour–- but that players still shell out more than $400 in dues to cover the remaining expenses.

"Maybe one day, down the road," Moreno says of the notion of UVA buying the rink. "But right now we don't see it as a possibility."

Voisinet says if the rink closes he fears for the entire Mall economy since, by his estimation, the ice park brings 150,000 annual visitors downtown. And he believes the specialized nature of the building, along with its urban location, will make any retrofit cost-prohibitive.

"The Mall is going to be left with a dark building for five to 20 years," Voisinet says.

Real estate agent Jim Duncan agrees, at least partially, with that grim assessment.

"I think it has the potential to be vacant for a couple of years," he says, adding that a vacancy of that size with the large brick plaza in front creates a potential new headache for the City.

"I think from a loitering standpoint it could be a real negative," says Duncan. "Increased police patrols may be required."

Mayor Dave Norris joins the lament chorus.

"I don't think any downtown area would want to have a space that large sit there boarded up and vacant for months and years on end," says Norris. But that doesn't mean he's ready to push for government intervention.

"I would be open to any conversation about how we can be involved in keeping it in operation," he says, "but it needs to be a private-sector-led effort, not the city stepping in to do the deal."

The Charlottesville Ice Park isn't the only Virginia rink to struggle financially.

The Fredericksburg Ice Park closed its doors in June 2009 after its owner, the Rappaport Company–- which took over after original owner Lee Danielson allegedly defaulted on the lease–- announced the rink was losing too much money. It has since reopened as an indoor go-kart track.

Neither the Williamsons nor any of the skaters interviewed want to see that happen here, and Bruce Williamson offers some small measure of hope for salvation before June 30 arrives.

"As before, there are some prospects," says Williamson, "and I think that one of them might be quite realistic. We have received no offer, but we hope that we will receive an offer between now and then."


Shortly before this issue went to press, Williamson alerted the Hook that the owners had received a letter of intent, their third but "it's the only one that has any legs," she says. "It's sort of exciting."

Correction: Roger Voisinet is a former coach of the UVA men's hockey team

Updated 2:37pm May 28: clarified urgency of zamboni sale.

Updated 3:55pm, May 31 with info about the new letter of intent.

Read more on: ice parkroger voisinet


I just checked UVa Mens Club hockey web site, and it does not list Mr Voisenet as a coach.

Chad, was the ice park sold? If that is true that is great have anymore information? Who brought it?

Roger V is not the coach of UVa hockey. He has nothing to do with the hockey team, so I do not know where they get there information.

IN the Know is in the right.

I think a roller skating rink would be a good idea. The local roller skating rink could host parties for teenagers on Friday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. It gives the kids a place to hang out. They could have local DJs come in to play music and off-duties officers for crowd control. I'm sure RMC staff would be glad to work at the skating rink.

I'm sure a lot of people would be willing to drive to Charlottesville to go roller skating then to Richmond.

I can't say that Im sad to see the Ice Park close. It saddens and infuriates me that the minority population of this town are never considered when choosing to build entertainment centers such as the ice park. As a longtime resident of this town I see less and less venues for minority youths and adults. Why not make the ice park into a roller skating rink? Why not have more groups at the Pavillion that appeal to minorities? This town has a mixture of people from a variety of ethinic backgrounds however it is very seldom represented. The upper middle class and UVa alumni are catered to and considered. It appears that the minorities of this town are not wanted and should remain invisible. We are only good for cleaning and serving. Close the Ice Park, shut it down, shut down the Downtown Mall all together. The wonderful fabric of the downtown mall is one color....white!

LOL at Lee Danielson. Coming from the man that has an empty hotel on out mall now. Do not listen to him

Minority Voice...have you ever visited the Ice Park? I am there every week for skating and I see a 'variety of ethnic backgrounds' and people of all ages skating....not just 'upper middle class and UVA alumni' as you say.

Check out www . cville-monorail . info

I've got the solution -- convenient mass transit at the rink site.

Everyone loves a roller rink, especially if they play a lot of Kool and the Gang and Journey. The utility bills for the ice park are exorbitant. How is that consistent with opposition to global warming by C'ville residents? Even I.C. Polar would support this switch.

That comment about the ice park only being for white people is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. My kids are not white and they love playing hockey there.

Gossip has it that a deal has been reached to sell the ice park. That was yesterday (Friday May 28th). Hint: the new owner owns a nearby building.

" Hint: the new owner owns a nearby building."

Halsey Minor?

Is there anything thing that comes down the pike that Dave Norris is not chomping at the bit to put public money into?
@Minority Voice, the city did not plan the ice park. In fact, when it was first proposed by the developers, David Toscano wisely convinced Council to not put any money into it. If you have been here long enough, I'm sure you remember that some enterprising individuals started sponsoring some parties that were geared to minority youth several years ago, but it had to be shut down after a few weeks because of all of the resulting gun play in the area after the dance closed for the night. Middle class whites and UVA had nothing to do with it.
The city held planning meetings for the community for over three years, did you participate? Right now, the Jefferson School partnership is trying to come up with programs for that school. Have you suggested that roller skating be returned to Carver Recreaion Center? Could it be that your voice isn't heard because you do not go to the venues where people are listening. Call 970-3101 (City Hall) and tell that person that you are looking for ways to participate in Parks and Recreation planning and you should be referred to the appropriate place. Or you could try attending a City Council meeting and speak directly to Council during the agenda item Matter from the Public.
Also, there are several ethnic food and crafts festivals that are sponsored by different groups locally. Have you been to any of those?

Minority voice, I did not realize that ice rinks are for white people and roller rinks aren't, but hey, you learn something new every day. Also, let's think about some of the most prominent musical performers who have come or are coming to downtown venues: Sharon Jones, Al Green, B.B. King. Who else would you like? Lil' Wayne?

In all seriousness though, a roller rink IS an interesting idea - the "rink" is already in place, and it costs much less to run that type of facility. You could even still have hockey!

As a matter of fact I have, and it's only because it's there. I go to the ice park, Fridays after 5 and the downtown mall because its something to do. I work in this town, pay my taxes like every other good citizen, however my preference is not taken into consideration when planning venues and other entertainment such as this. That is my point.

Roller rink!

Charlottesville is a special place and I hope that the long term resolution is well thought out and that all parties can come up with a solution in keeping with the best results for the entire community.

Just don't use tax money for ANY of it. That would be a bailout and we know how those go. MONEY PIT

sad, but this is the free market at work. not enough interest to equal the cost of operation = closed. if the rink had not been somehow subsidized when built; these people would not be stuck with such a huge loss. the place never probably made a profit from day one.

No Chouav, the operation was never going to be a money maker but there are some very important parts to the puzzle that the rink did do and should continue to do. I want to say that the Williamson's and their partners were terrific in there devotion to the rink and to the betterment of downtown Charlottesville.

1..It was a very important ingredient in securing an opportunity for families to feel safe and part of the wonderful fabric of the downtown mall.

2. The lease with Regal Cinemas was dependent on the opening of the ice park and continuing operations. They were/are co-dependent on each other. I do not know if Regal would consider closing once the Ice Park is gone. Clearly their lease requires for it to be there.

3. The Downtown Mall cannot afford more empty space in these times. While the short term might make it the long term disaster will be there as it will take many years to energize the community once again.

4. Charlottesville is a special place and I hope that the long term resolution is well thought out and that all parties can come up with a solution in keeping with the best results for the entire community.

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We need something robust and manly in this downtown of stiletto heels boutiques and chest shavers. That ice rink is plenty large enough for a small bull ring. Let's bring bull fighting to Charlottesville. Some call it a "world class city." That would help.

As far as I know, nothing is concrete yet. Hoping it's a done deal in the next couple of weeks.

Apparently the ice park was bought and will stay an ice park? Great news - was not looking forward to driving to richmond to play hockey.