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April 27, 2023

Atlantic City Skate Zone ice rink to remain open until Bader Field redevelopment, officials say

The hockey and figure skating facility will stay up and running before the proposed $2.7 billion project gets underway, Mayor Marty Small Sr. announced Wednesday

Development Atlantic City
skate zone atlantic city Street View/Google

Atlantic City Skate Zone will remain an operational ice rink until the $2.7 billion Bader Field redevelopment project gets underway, Mayor Marty Small Sr. announced Wednesday.

Atlantic City Skate Zone, a long-time home for the Jersey Shore youth ice hockey and figure skating community, will remain operational for the foreseeable future, according to city officials.

Despite the city exploring plans to convert the facility into a roller rink, Skate Zone will remain a functioning ice rink until the Bader Field redevelopment projects take over the land on which the building sits, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said in a press conference on Wednesday. 

"We are going to keep the Skate Zone as an ice skate facility until the city no longer has possession of this property," Small said during the presentation. "I don't know if it's going to be a year, two years or five years. But I'm making that commitment as mayor. My administration and I, within reason, is going to make sure that these lights stay on."

The facility is home to the Atlantic City Sharks travel teams, an in-house league, middle and high school hockey teams, figure skaters, a men's league, learn-to-skate programs and the Stockton University ice hockey team.

Atlantic City officials had been exploring turning the ice rink into a roller rink due to a lack of local interest in ice sports as well as a need for more family entertainment in the city.

"The rumor was that there were a lot of kids here in Atlantic City that participate (in ice hockey at Skate Zone)," Small said. "And that was never true. You might get a handful. But it's a city facility, purported to be used by majority city kids. And that just wasn't the case."

After researching the costs of converting the space, city officials didn't feel it would be worth it to invest the funds necessary to transform the space into a roller rink, especially given its uncertain future amidst the Bader Field renovations. Instead, Small said he hopes the rink draws in more business through parties, free skates and recruiting more local athletes.

This year is already off to a promising start financially for Skate Zone compared to last year. In 2022, the facility lost about $153,000 for Atlantic City due in large part to necessary repairs, the city's chief financial officer Toro Aboderin said during Wednesday's presentation. In the first four months of 2023, the rink has profited about $113,000.

The Sharks hockey team is one organization that is happy about the Skate Zone's immediate future. The organization is planning to bring future hockey camps and tournaments to Skate Zone, which would benefit the businesses in the community, according to president Jenny Gleghorn. She also noted the importance of the ice rink to youth in Atlantic City.

"One of the greatest things that I've experienced since helping this facility out: Every Friday night we have public skate, and it is free to the residents of Atlantic City," Gleghorn said. "So a lot of the children that are around this area bike over here or their parents drop them off. And I was with one of the teachers from Atlantic City over the weekend and she made a statement that she's so happy that the kids have a place to go because they keep talking about it in school, how they're going to the Skate Zone on Friday night."

This isn't the first time the Skate Zone was threatened, only to be pulled back from the brink of closure.

Atlantic City Skate Zone was built in the late 1990s as one of four Skate Zones in the region originally founded and operated by Comcast as Flyers Skate Zones. The rink was opened through a partnership between Comcast, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the city of Atlantic City. 

In 2020, Comcast Spectacor sold three of the arena complexes — in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsauken and Atlantic City — to Black Bear Sports Group, while holding on to the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone at Voorhees, which has become the the Philadelphia Flyers' training facility.

Last year, Black Bear Sports group gave up the Atlantic City facility after failing to come to a lease agreement with other stakeholders including the CRDA, which questioned whether the rink would be economical.

In January of 2022, a petition was launched to show support for the continued operation of the rink, and it received more than 8,000 signatures. The organizers of the petition cited the importance of the facility to local teams, athletes and organizations, as well as the fear it would become an "eye sore" like the nearby Sandcastle Stadium if it sat vacant.

The rink was able to stay alive when the city of Atlantic City took over the lease, promising to keep it running through at least April 2023.

Now, Atlantic City will keep Skate Zone open indefinitely, though likely not forever.

A proposal by DEEM Enterprises would tear down the building as part of its $2.7 billion redevelopment project for Bader Field, which houses the rink, the Press of Atlantic City reported. Last month, Small signed a memorandum of understanding to green light the project, which would turn the former municipal airport site into a Formula One racetrack with luxury condominiums and retail space.

The full press conference discussing the future of the Skate Zone can be watched on Facebook.

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