10th Year Anniversary of Riverside YMCA Rink Closing

In my day (evening?) dreaming of an ice rink once returning to Allegany County, Md., I turned to Google to entertain me.

The search made me realize I missed the milestone, or gravestone, of the Ort Family Ice Arena. April marked 10 years since the ice rink at the Riverside YMCA in Cumberland closed for good.

In my sulking, I found a few odds and ends tied to the history of the rink. (Read my take on a 1986 study on bringing an ice rink to Allegany County if you want to go way back.)

It was well known that it was the first YMCA to have an ice rink on site of one of its clubs, but other YMCA locations, or just Y now, looked to Cumberland for inspiration.

Officials from a Rockport, Maine, YMCA visited Cumberland’s rink in 1999, according to the Bangor Daily News.  The Riverside YMCA in Cumberland opened in 1997. The ice was removed after April 2006. It’s been 10 years in Cumberland without an ice rink.

A month after that article was published, officials dropped plans to add a rink because they learned a businessman in the community was going to build one.

Probably a wise move.

The other tidbit is the whereabouts of the original Ort Family Ice Arena manager.

Gary Baldwin, who also served as an interim CEO of Riverside YMCA, is the general manager of the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena in Newark, Ohio. That’s just a 40-minute drive east of Columbus. It’s also about four hours from Cumberland.

Baldwin turned up on a page mentioning his Cumberland experience on the website of the National Collegiate Hockey Association, a new league for club hockey programs.

The league posted a mini-biography/thank you to Baldwin as the rink hosts the NCHA championships. The biography noted how the rink almost shuttered 10 years ago but local businesses and volunteers raised $1.5 million to keep it open.

Compare that to the fundraising campaign that still brought in money to the YMCA but they decided that the money wasn’t going to be used to save the rink.

What if?

It’s such a sad situation the rink isn’t here anymore. I really wish I had the money to build one myself here. But my luck ran out playing slots at Rocky Gap Casino, and the lottery balls aren’t bouncing my way.

Now, I pointed out on here before that it’s possible any rink could have been doomed here when the higher paying factory and manufacturing jobs left Allegany County and the area in the past 10 years.

On the flip side, when the rink closed it was when the first season of NHL hockey was wrapping up following the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2005-2006 season was the first season in the league for Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Both the Capitals and Penguins finished last in their divisions.

Ten years later, their success and notoriety caused an explosion and resurgence in youth and particularly adult hockey in both regions. Would the rink have seen the same resurgence if it continued to operate during the rise of Ovi and Sid?

I’d like to think so but there are so many other factors. We’ve seen new rinks, renovated rinks and added sheets in both the Baltimore and D.C. areas in that time. Pittsburgh has seen new rinks but there has been a market adjustment the past couple years there, especially with a state-of-the-art Penguins practice rink in Cranberry Township. Others have closed in that metro area as there is a movement to build a new one in an armory.

But in this region—Cumberland-Johnstown-Uniontown—it’s a struggle.

As you know, Planet Ice in Johnstown is closing in July, leaving the first Kraft Hockeyville USA down a rink. That community still has two other rinks. The Ice Mine is for sale outside of Connellsville, Pa. Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is vehemently opposed to using its outdoor ice rink for shinny or anything resembling hockey.

Somehow, there are more people in this county in 2016 compared to 2006 but fewer people are living in the largest city, Cumberland. That’s going against trends where people are preferring to moving back to the city.

Bedford and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania—both just north of Allegany County—have lost population from 2010 to 2015. And Cambria County, where Johnstown is, just bleeds out population. The county lost 10,000 people from 2001 to 2016. That’s an entire town.

So, it’s certainly a struggle. But let’s focus back here for a minute.

I’m encouraged that Allegany County is opening hotels left and right, which means there are needs for business travelers and vacationers to be here more and more. We’re seeing more chain restaurants invest here–Cracker Barrel, Buffalo Wild Wings, a new Chick-fil-A–in addition to a new shopping center with Aldi, PetSmart and others in LaVale.

If only we can land some larger companies that pay well for people who want to live here, then the dream of bringing back an ice rink can return.

 

Exclusive: Ellenton, Fla., ice rink sold

Update:

Ellenton Ice has sold for $6 million to American Ice Rinks Ellenton LLLP, according to a deed filed with the Manatee County Clerk.

The full price is $6,020,000.

American Ice Rinks is the same owner as the Space Coast Iceplex, as originally reported, and business documents show that both rinks are registered to Matthew Smith. The deed also reveals that the seller, Mike Bennett and business partner Marv Kaplan, retain some rights over the electronic billboard they bought and constructed at the rink. That’s a prime billboard on a heavily traveled interstate at an exit shared with the Ellenton Premium Outlets.

Smith and his wife Natalia Smith acquired the Brevard County ice rink in 2014, according to FloridaToday.com.

The Smiths are well versed in ice rinks and competitive ice skating, the website reported:

Before arriving in Brevard, Matt Smith spent 15 years managing and operating an ice rink in San Diego. Both he and his wife have experience as skating coaches and were competitive figure skaters.

Matt Smith was the Junior National Champion of Canada in Figure Skating and spent four years on the Canadian national skating team. He has coached Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, as well as other world-class athletes. His wife, Natalia Smith, set the Guinness World Record for the fastest spin on ice skates.

Because of their clout in the international skating community, the Smiths could boost the profile of the iceplex’s skating programs.

On the figure skating side, this sounds like a perfect fit for the Smiths. Ellenton Ice has regularly been the training home for Olympic skaters. Among those who trained in Ellenton include pairs Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang in Sochi, Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora in Vancouver, Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney in Vancouver (both Florida natives!) plus Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudy Sweigers along with Brits David King and Stacy Kemp also train at the rink for the Olympics and other competitions.

That’s a program they can directly affect the most. Youth hockey is almost on autopilot between having adult organizations and now the Tampa Bay Lightning being heavily involved in high school leagues and conducting camps. The Bolts are also providing a retired Lightning player to help co-coach each high school team.

Adult hockey? That remains to be seen. I don’t know how they handled it at Space Coast, but the director of adult hockey at Ellenton, Bill Walleshauser, wasn’t immediately rehired, according to his Facebook page.

I don’t know if Smith is bringing his own guy over from Brevard to run the program, or having someone else double duties locally, but it’s a touchy decision for some folks.

The rink has adult programs running on two sheets with six leagues, A through D plus a 30+ league. That’s a lot of people to manage, a lot of refs to schedule and having to deal with suspensions and other beer league drama.

What I’m most interested in is what Smith’s vision is for the vacant sports bar, which has had a revolving door of tenants even from the rink’s very start as the J.P. Igloo. Fun fact: The original restaurant that was supposed to be housed in that space was a R.J. Gators, which went out of business entirely as a chain then was revived in Bradenton.

Also, there’s an indoor lacrosse/soccer space in Ellenton Ice, too, that will have to be managed, along with a gym upstairs. They could use new flooring, maybe finally replacing the old Igloo logo at the entrance.

My pet peeve when I lived down there — cosmetically speaking — was this hockey player statue that was breaking through the side of the building facing Interstate 75. It’s painted in old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim colors because it was the uniform of an old youth or junior team when the rink opened. It really needs to be repainted to reflect the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anyway, after reading and sharing stories about a slew of rink closures in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, it’s nice to see a rink staying open after being purchased.

Original:

Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla., has been sold to the owners of the Space Coast Iceplex in Rockledge, Fla. Price hasn’t been disclosed but not all employees have been rehired.

The ice rink has long been on the market, owned by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett through his company MJ Squared, and business partner Marv Kaplan.

The asking price on Loopnet, a commercial real estate listings site, last year was $12.5 million. The rink recently went a minor renovation and installed a video billboard to bring in revenue beside Interstate 75 but a space for a restaurant has been vacant for at least three years. It was last occupied by Ellenton Steakhouse.