The pandemic stopped the wheels from turning, silenced the music and dimmed the rainbow lights six months ago at well-known Dominion Skating Center on North Main Street in Culpeper.
Now the skating rink cherished by generations of locals is on the market for $1.95 million.
As of Thursday, there were no offers yet on the property, but there had been a fair amount of interest, according to listing agent Philip Thornton, representing the owner along with fellow broker-owner and wife, Kelly Thornton, of RE/MAX Crossroads. One potential buyer would turn the party place for kids into personal storage units and another would use it for retail, he said.
It is unknown if the facility, operating 40-plus years, will ever open again as a skating rink. But there are some influential, youth-focused people in the community who would like to help see that happen.
Local entrepreneur Brandon Miles, owner of The Sneaker Thrifts brand that recently opened a location in Shops at Stonefield in Charlottesville, is one such person.
He is seeking investors to “Save the Rink” he could be well-suited to take over. A 2006 graduate of Culpeper County High School, Miles grew up at the rink and said it was his second home.
“It’s a staple,” Miles said in an meeting Thursday on site. “They would be doing an injustice to the kids out here if they don’t continue to have this as entertainment for children.”
He continued, “They build more housing developments, more breweries and more restaurants to cater to families moving here—zero for the kids. You can’t do that and be oh, well we want the kids to not be in trouble or do drugs, but you don’t got nothing for them to do.”
Rink owners: Losing money, can’t reopen
Dominion Skating Center Owner Tommy Hoffman and his wife, Joyce, made the difficult decision about a month ago to sell the 25,000-square-feet facility that was built in 1977. They cannot open back up due to continued spread of COVID-19. Yet the place is costing them thousands per month closed.
“We just hate it,” said Joyce of putting it up for sale. “Because the children won’t have nowhere to go unless somebody reopens it. I think it’s pitiful because they don’t have anything else to do out here.”
Ironically, the skating rink had its best month ever in February under their ownership, attracting some 700 customers. It turned a profit before it was forced to close, Tommy Hoffman said. Then they had to toss considerable food product from the snack bar as the shutdown stretched on and on, another unrecoverable loss. There’s been no break on insurance or taxes, either.
“We had so many pizzas—everything was here and nothing to do with it. It went out of date,” Tommy Hoffman said. “I’m not a business person, but I’m good at math and I knew enough to know something was going wrong.”
Reopening the place under a still-restricted business environment is not an option, he added, especially while COVID-19 remains an active in the community.
“As long as this stuff’s out here, I’m not going to open. I don’t want to be the one, come back say, well the skating rink, that’s where my kid got it and brought it home to grandma now grandma’s going to hell or heaven,” Hoffman said. “I don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading this virus. Nobody knows where it’s going or how long it’s going to last.”
A trip back in time
The substantial selling price is estimated fair market value for the property that sits on 5.25 acres in town with Main Street frontage and mountain views of the Blue Ridge at the back, Thornton said. It includes a two-bedroom patio home at the rear, a partially-renovated three-bedroom, two bathroom apartment above the rink and various outbuildings.
The rink looks as it did in the spring, frozen in time, and similar to its appearance 20 years ago. All of the games still light up, the rental skates sit silent on shelves behind the counter, foosball hums to life when plugged in, stuffed toys fill the claw machine and the wooden skate floor gleams under large speakers ready to blast music again. The property is turn-key and could probably open up after a few days of hard work, Thornton said.
“It’s a trip back in time … It’s a neat property,” he said. “It would be great to see it stay as a rink. It would be great to see maybe the town come in, consider doing something like they did at Rockwater Park.”
The town built the park with a splash pad and obstacle course on a hill next to a Safeway in recent years after purchasing the land that was slated for a housing development. Thornton said commercial real estate has “completely rolled over” during the period of COVID-19.
Recreation-based businesses like a roller rink face continued restrictions and have been especially hard hit, he said, mentioning the recent closure of Mountain Run Bowling Center.
“The economics don’t work under the governor’s virus plan,” the local broker-owner said. “When the bowling alley was able to reopen, they did, but the public didn’t come out and even under a partial reopening, they couldn’t financially survive. Same thing here.”
When only 50 people are allowed in at a time and it cost $5 to skate, a day’s worth of business could generate $500 best case scenario in two four-hour shifts, Thornton said. It falls short of covering payroll, the cost of inventory and other business expenses.
“It’s a classic example of can’t afford to be closed, but sure as heck can’t afford to be open. You lose more money being open than you did staying closed,” he said. “It’s sad to see what the virus has done locally to small business so this is a very tough time to bring a property to market, especially one that’s close to $2 million. But for the right person or people I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Save the rink, make it better
Miles envisions making major improvements at the skating rink where he came of age while his mother worked at the former juvenile correctional center in Mitchells. A board member of the Culpeper Youth mentorship program, he previously held various fund-raisers and themed events (Throwback Skate Night) at the rink that attracted big crowds.
If Miles ran the place, he’d keep it open seven days a week, offer after-school tutoring and start a Boys & Girls Club. He’d add laser tag, basketball tournaments outside and a gaming room where kids could interact while, yes, playing video games.
“Let them come here, be around other kids. Because a lot of them are socially awkward—they can’t talk in public,” Miles said.
He spent his elementary school years in Alexandria where each school was its own recreation center that took kids in for free when classes let out, he said.
“It was people at the rec center’s job to make sure that first half hour to an hour that we got our homework done, we got help, we got tutored and then we got to play basketball and video games and stuff. There’s nothing like that here,” Miles said, adding he’s on the board of Culpeper Youth because he cares about kids. “Those kids grow up to care about the other kids.”
Emotionally invested in the property and the prospect of bringing it back to life, Miles said he’s a business person, too, and is looking to the community for support. He said he could raise the money to buy the rink, but fears it may be scooped up for some other use before that’s possible.
“I’m looking at local people who have a lot of money, a local philanthropist that will match something for something,” he said.
Finally, a community center in Culpeper?
In recent weeks and months, local philanthropist Joe Daniel of Jefferson Home Builders has engaged in various email debates with local leaders about the presence of names, monuments, statues and flags honoring the Confederacy. He has offered to pay for removing the soldier statue from the courthouse grounds and supported removing the battle flag from Lenn Park.
Daniel has repeatedly challenged town and county leaders for their alternate stance on the issue. One such exchange involved Culpeper Town Councilman Keith Brown, who mentioned to Daniel that the roller rink was for sale.
“You could really help out the youth and homeless with the $1.9 million purchase,” he wrote in an email. “I can support that as well as the entire community. These changes you are fighting for have no real impact on daily lives. Let’s team up on my proposal.”
Daniel, who owns the townhouse development next to the skating rink, responded he would match every dollar Brown put up for purchase of the large facility to turn it into a Boys & Girls Club or something similar. He listed his many contributions through the years to making Culpeper a better place, including the community college that bears Daniel’s name.
“Join me in ’fighting’ for a youth center. That is something worth fighting for to help people improve their lives!” Daniel wrote to Brown.
In an email to the Star-Exponent Friday night, Brown said saving the rink and making it a community center would a phenomenal opportunity for local youth. He supported a private entity taking on the project without financial support from local government.
“A local community or recreation center is a great boost to the local economy. Not only does it provide jobs, both in the building and running of the facility, but it also gives the community opportunities to make money through sports tournaments and conventions,” Brown said.
It would also provide a healthy and safe place for youth and would increase physical fitness, he added. A recreation center also promotes community involvement and relationship building, Brown said, and would attract new residents: “I look forward to helping the cause any way I can,” he said. The councilman challenged Daniel “to step up and assist in locating investors that can make this rare opportunity reality.”
More support for youth center at rink
Culpeper County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal has long been an advocate for providing healthy activity options for local youth. He led the initiative two years ago to bring a YMCA to Culpeper and build it on county-owned land not far from the roller rink on Route 229.
But voters rejected the $13.1 million recreation referendum at the polls when misinformation spread that using county funds to build the project would raise taxes. County administration said at the time that would not be necessary because of the county’s excellent bond rating and ability to borrow money cheaply due to a healthy level of reserves.
There has been no movement forward since on a community center in Culpeper. The county had been accepting donations from citizens for it as part of an option on tax bills, but that option was recently removed.
“I’m not sure we’re in the business or mindset of going forward with that,” Deal said at the August Rules Committee meeting where the tax bill contribution item was discussed.
Added County Administrator John Egerston, “We abandoned that (in 2018).”
Deal agreed, saying, “I’m not sure it’s feasible to ask the community to build it if we don’t have a plan in place to build it—unfortunately, in my opinion.”
Deal has not given up on some sort of community center, however. In an email Friday in which he stated he was not speaking on behalf of the board, Deal said he would personally like to see the roller rink stay open and improved with a focus on local youth.
“I lobbied Mr. Miles and Mr. Daniel weeks ago advising the location was ideal to maintain the rink and transition the facility into a Boys & Girls Club or Community Center,” he said.
Deal added taxpayer funding through a public private partnership for the initiative was a tough ask during a pandemic due to unknown revenue and ultimately because of the failed YMCA referendum.
“Private funding, private contributions, and private ownership would be non-political and less convoluted,” he said. “However, I was the instigator and advocate of the Community Center for the kids and it never hurts to entertain ideas and proposals when potential private contributions are on the table.”
See Gofundme.com/SaveTheRink540 for information.
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