VIRGINIA BEACH — Even though the population here is comparable to that in Raleigh, North Carolina, and despite there being a demand, there’s only one ice rink here compared to Raleigh’s 10.
That’s according to Robert Pizzini, businessman and youth hockey coach, who also said with a population half of that here in Virginia Beach, Richmond has two indoor rinks.
This is just one reason Pizzini said he’s teamed up with fellow hockey coaches, Ryan Croley, and Rich Appleby, to open “The Warrior Ice Center” through a partnership with the Warrior for Life Fund and hopefully also with the city of Virginia Beach.
Together, they’re working to enter into a public-private partnership to develop and build the $10 million, 90,000 square-foot facility at the Princess Anne Athletic Complex with a mission to serve a purpose beyond the rink with its after school programs.
“This facility will be a community center,” Pizzini said. “We want to make ice sports accessible to everyone in the community no matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter what school you go to, but available to everyone who has a desire to get on the ice.”
Although it has “excellent quality ice,” Pizzini said the one rink at the Iceland Family Skating Center makes it difficult to keep up with the demand for their Learn to Play classes, multiple hockey and figure skating teams, and public skate sessions.
“We maintain the building very well but it’s old and tired, and we’re at our max capacity with every available ice time sold out,” he said.
Without even handicap accessible restrooms at the repurposed grocery store, expanding their sled hockey program for people with disabilities isn’t an option.
The new ice center would not only be built to Paralympic Training Center standards, but also house two National Hockey League regulation-sized ice sheets, a technology center for kids to do their homework after school, a fitness center, catering services, non-ice event space, and more.
The Warrior for Life Fund would own and operate all the programs aligned with their mission to help military-affiliated residents better cope with the unique challenges veterans and their family members face through ice sports.
With about 60 percent of their players being from the military community, Pizzini said the Hampton Roads Youth Hockey Association is transitioning to move under the Warrior for Life Fund and maintain their organization-based programming but with a new team name — “The Warriors.”
The goal now is to continue meeting with key officials and submit their formal “Request for Public-Private Partnership” within the next 30 days.
If everything flows without a hitch, residents could see The Warrior Ice Center in 2023, but as CEO of iFly Virginia Beach which he thought would take three years to open but took six, Pizzini knows a projected four-year timeline is ambitious.
“There’s a factor of patience and understanding that a project of this magnitude is worth the wait,” he said.