A former ice rink on the North Side could be transformed into a destination for Black residents to channel a piece of their culture and a place for a community on wheels to connect.
A push to convert the former Victory Memorial Ice Arena at 1900 42nd Av. N. into a roller-skating rink, called "Roll North," is creating a lot of buzz. If the 27,725-square-foot building is turned into a roller rink, it would become the only one in Minneapolis.
"It's very exciting," said Eric Moran, who is spearheading the effort. "This is going to be a huge uplift for the community."
Moran ran unsuccessfully for a Minneapolis Park Board seat last year to represent the North Side. He spent time looking at empty and unused facilities in the neighborhood to see what the park board could do to repurpose them.
As he traveled through the neighborhood, Moran saw people using tennis courts and other park spaces as skating surfaces. Meanwhile, the ice arena sat empty near Patrick Henry High School, which once considered using the space for a field house. That idea was deemed too expensive.
Breathing a new life into the unused ice arena and giving young people and the community a recreational facility became one of Moran's campaign goals.
He hopes to open the rink by 2024. But challenges await, as Moran figures out whether to lease or buy the space, what it will take to turn it into a skating rink, and how to pay for it all. Renovations alone are estimated to cost up to $2 million, Moran said.
Built in 1974, the arena was home to various hockey squads until the early 2010s when the freezing system for the ice sheet stopped working, according to Minneapolis Public Schools, which owns and operates the facility.
The school district has seven unused buildings. Victory Memorial Ice Arena has not yet been designated by the school board as a "surplus" facility, which would be the first step in the process for the district when it sells or leases such buildings.
In the meantime, the space serves as a warehouse to store equipment and furniture until alternative solutions are identified, district officials said.
But the project has drawn support from some Minneapolis school board members.
Board member and North Side resident Kimberly Caprini wants to see the space become something other than storage to help the cash-strapped district. Caprini said she worked with Moran to sketch a roadmap for his plan to get the district and the community to take him seriously since similar ideas have fallen through.
"At this moment, I'm thinking about generating revenue, not just the excitement of having a roller rink," Caprini said. "We've already got these offline buildings; what can [we] do with them to generate revenue for the district? And I think Roll North is a great idea."
With few roller rinks remaining in the Twin Cities metro — just Skateville in Burnsville and Cheapskate in Coon Rapids — the possibility of having a roller rink in north Minneapolis has gained overwhelming support from the community and neighborhood organizers, Moran said.
Roll North is being touted as an employment engine for the neighborhood while providing space for a variety of recreational activities.
The North Star Roller Derby — which has more than a hundred members across the metro and no permanent facility — would hold their bouts and practices there, and bring inclusive programming to the community.
Mahogany Plautz remembers going to roller rinks growing up as "really communal and special." Several of those rinks have since closed, partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plautz, who's now a longtime resident of north Minneapolis, said a roller rink would bring different communities together as demographics change on the North Side.
"There's a long history of roller skating in a lot of communities, particularly in the Black community," Plautz said. "I'm excited to have more things for folks to do in this side of town. So that we don't have to travel all the time to the suburbs to go roller-skating."