The Ice Zone, which gave rise to youth hockey in the Mahoning Valley when it opened in 1997, will close May 15, owners announced Monday.
Despite sustained efforts to market the rink and repeated attempts to sell the facility over the years, Bruce J. Zoldan, president and chief executive of Phantom Fireworks and a part owner of the rink, made the decision to close the doors for good.
William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, said hockey has thus far failed to catch on in the Valley and that hurt the rink’s revenue.
“Unfortunately, as much as we’ve tried to push ice sports, there’s a disconnect here — it’s a hard-core football and baseball area,” Weimer said. “We’ve built a great product with the Phantoms hockey team and spent tremendous amounts on advertising, but it didn’t take at the Ice Zone.”
A precursor to the Youngstown Phantoms, who now play in the United States Hockey League and call their home the Covelli Centre, Zoldan first brought junior hockey to the Ice Zone and the Valley in 2002.
Traveling Monday, Zoldan was unavailable to answer questions.
The Phantoms practice at the Ice Zone, but the decision to close the doors there will not affect the franchise, Weimer said.
“The closing of the Ice Zone will have no effect on the continuation of the team,” he said.
Now, the Phantoms will be forced to pay by the hour for practice time at Covelli or seek another venue. Options include rinks in Pittsburgh, Kent and Canton, among others.
Weimer said the team has yet to explore those options.
Eric Ryan, executive director of the Covelli Centre, said additional ice time for practice is available, depending on other events at the facility.
The rink is home to the local youth hockey association, where children from grade school to high school play organized hockey. It also hosts a figure-skating club, public skating hours and even birthday parties.
May’s closing date will allow teams and recreational groups to finish their seasons and make other arrangements to seek a new venue over the summer.
“We receive property tax from that facility,” said Boardman Township Trustee Tom Costello. “What’s really sad, though, is the rink has served as an attraction for our community, helping to bring more business to area hotels and restaurants.”
Costello said he learned a Canadian firm has expressed interest in operating the rink, but that could not be independently verified.
Weimer said no deal to sell the rink has been lined up.
“We’ll market it as an ice rink — there’s expensive equipment inside that would help an operator,” Weimer said. “If somebody has a use for something other than an ice rink and they buy it, they have the right to do whatever they want.”
Ed Craft, a member of the Youngstown Phantoms Figure Skating Club, said rumors have circulated for months now about the rink’s closure. His group is disappointed, Craft said. It will meet Wednesday to discuss where their group will skate after the Ice Zone’s closure. Early options include facilities in Beaver and New Castle.
Between 12 and 15 employees will be affected by the closure. Weimer said those employees would be given the option of working for Phantom Fireworks.