The big chill: Danielson and Rolph's split final

The men who remade downtown Charlottesville have severed the last of their ties. After a blistering lawsuit that included charges of bullying so profound that an accountant was allegedly reduced to tears, the no-longer-so-dynamic duo of Lee Danielson and Colin Rolph has finally finished breaking up.

For most of the 1990s, Danielson and Rolph were a financial dream team. Danielson cooked up the schemes and Rolph put up some serious money. Their company, D&R Development, was credited with the invigoration of downtown Charlottesville.

But the partnership hit some icebergs. Danielson and Rolph became embroiled in a bitter public feud over the future of their Charlottesville Ice Park. It seemed they couldn't agree on exactly how much money the Ice Park was losing.

"The ice park should have closed down long ago," Danielson told the Progress a year ago. Rolph begged to differ.

In the liquidation of their joint properties that was announced in March, Rolph took over the Park and kept it running. By this time, the pair was already involved in a nasty lawsuit that concluded just last week with a settlement and a gag order.

Why couldn't Rolph and Danielson keep their partnership alive?

The problem, as seems apparent in court papers, stems from that basest of human motivators: money. Rolph had plenty to spare; Danielson didn't. In 1996 Danielson borrowed $1.2 million from Rolph. The promise to repay with 10 percent annual interest was handwritten on one of Danielson's own business cards.

Danielson expected to repay his business partner upon inheriting a large estate. But as time passed and the pair disagreed more and more vehemently about the operation of D&R, it became apparent that the debt was a symbol of a once fertile and trusting partnership in meltdown.

Pre-lawsuit, Jake Mooney's July 2001 Progress article described the two sniping at each other like a divorcing couple.

"Lee is basically not a part of Charlottesville anymore," said Rolph, pointing out that his partner spent more time in California than Virginia. Danielson's take on the duo: "One has real estate experience, the other doesn't."

By August 2001, the situation in the D&R Development office was out of control. Checks were being written without the money to back them. "SINCE WE ARE BROKE, I WOULD SUGGEST THAT NO CHECKS GO OUT THAT CANNOT BE COVERED," Danielson wrote in emails to Rolph, accountant Jennifer Beckman, and Tim Slagle, then president of D&R. With its electric bills unpaid, Danielson worried about the Fredericksburg Ice Park. "IT LOOKS LIKE WE WILL HAVE A SWIMMING POOL AS OF AUGUST 24," he wrote.

Things went from bad to worse in November 2001, when Danielson wrote several checks totaling $11,000 to himself. While he told Beckman he had written checks to Rolph for the same amount, he also made disparaging remarks about Rolph and Slagle that brought the frustrated accountant to tears.

According to Beckman's affidavit, Danielson's withdrawals left D&R unable to pay Fredericksburg Ice Park employees; only a fortuitous windfall from ice hockey participant fees enabled D&R to keep the facility open.

But the near loss of yet another ice park was an example of how countermanding instructions from Rolph and Danielson made it impossible for employees to keep the company running. "In my mind," Danielson wrote in an email, "D&R no longer exists, and I will do everything in my power to have it shut down along with the Ice Park."

The wheels were in motion to end the partnership, but even the dissolution got off to a rocky start when Danielson filed a motion to disqualify Rolph's attorneys, Feil, Pettit & Williams, P.L.C., since they had previously represented the partners. Danielson's motion was denied, and he was ordered to pay an additional $15,072 to cover Rolph's legal fees.

Several hearings later, an agreement of sorts has been made. The Hook couldn't get details of the truce, but a tight-lipped spokesperson for Gaylon Beights, the court-appointed receiver overseeing the liquidation of the properties, says the settlement resolves "all of the issues."

Many Charlottesville residents don't care about "all of the issues." Their only concern is whether the beloved downtown Ice Park will remain open.

"It's part of the downtown community, and we're committed to keeping it here," said Rolph, who refused to respond to questions about whether the Ice Park continues to lose money.

So as Rolph seems determined to keep the Ice Park doors open, the public can now close the door on a contentious-but-lucrative chapter in City history.

 

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