John Ross, who holds the majority ownership interest in the 22-acre site and the ice skating facility on it, said Wednesday, May 11 that he had informed employees and tenants of the transaction. Ross said the IcePlex building will be demolished in connection with the new development. He estimated that the required approval process with the city of Chesterfield will take six to nine months, meaning the IcePlex likely will close in March or April 2017 and work will start on the demolition and the new operation soon after.
The new developer of the property is Topgolf, whose locations include not only climate-controlled driving range bays on multiple decks but also full-scale entertainment complexes with dining and bar facilities, other games and dozens of high-definition TVs throughout the building.
A headline on an article about a Topgolf facility in Austin, Texas, described it as “Not Your Grandfather’s Driving Range.”
Contacted earlier about rumors that Topgolf was planning a facility in Chesterfield, a spokeswoman said the company was actively looking in the area but that she had no developments that she could discuss at that time. Actual construction time for a new location takes about eight to 10 months, she said.
According to the company’s website, Topgolf was started by two golfing brothers in England who wanted to improve their skills and also have a good time. A U.S. licensee, WestRiver Group, brought the concept to Alexandria, Virginia, in 2005. The operation has been expanding under the name Topgolf Entertainment Group [TEG] and since has attracted other investors, including Callaway Golf Co.
TEG now has operations in 21 U.S. cities with 12 more locations expected to open soon. The closest locations to St. Louis are in the Chicago area and in Overland Park, Kansas.
Chesterfield officials confirmed that plans for the Topgolf operation were submitted late in the day on May 11. The narrative portion describes the facility in some detail, noting among other things that the 34 hitting bays on each of three levels have seating for up to six people.
Microchips in the golf balls track each player’s shot in real time, awarding points for accuracy in hitting designated targets at different distances from the tee line. The experience is designed to be both competitive and social and to appeal to players of varying skill levels, the submitted materials say.
Rumors about the IcePlex’s closing and the property’s sale have been rampant for some time.
Chesterfield resident and former City Councilmember Matt Segal recently posted a plea on his Facebook page for help in making sure that a skating facility continues to be available in the area.
“I never thought the day would come when we would have to worry about where our children would play hockey or figure skate,” Segal wrote. “Hearing that the Hardee’s IcePlex in Chesterfield is likely closing has shaken our family.
“Although a deal has not been finalized, it is very likely that the Hardee’s IcePlex could close as early as Spring 2017.”
Segal indicated in his post that a non-profit solution, being led by a local development team, is working “to help us solve this community issue. However, this solution will likely take public support from our city council to bring this development to life.”
Contacted about the post, Segal said he is a concerned parent and one of about 500 people from Chesterfield and other communities now involved in finding a solution that will keep a skating facility in the area. That group includes numerous parents, team managers and others with an interest in hockey and skating.
Others who expressed concern include CBC hockey coach John Jost and AAA Blues coach Bil Mermis.
“It would be a huge blow to amateur hockey in St. Louis,” Jost said of the IcePlex’s closing. “We don’t have enough rinks in the area to absorb taking away three sheets [of ice].
“The facility is very important to not only Chesterfield but the entire St. Louis hockey community.”
Mermis echoed Jost’s concern.
“A lot of players need that ice from September through May,” Mermis said. “Without those three sheets of ice, it leaves a huge void in terms of hockey and skating. Kids need that ice to develop and enjoy those sports.”
Asked if there are any specific plans in the making for a skating facility, Segal said at this point “anything is possible.”
One rumor has the Blue Valley area – also home to the St. Louis Premium Outlets mall – as being a potential site for a skating-hockey operation. At least one developer believes land prices in that growing commercial area are probably too high for such a facility. But Dean Wolfe whose Wolfe Properties has played a major role in the Blue Valley development, said, “It’s always possible something could be worked out.”
Jost is among those who are hoping that’s true.
“I don’t really know any specifics but if it does close hopefully one of the many new rinks I keep hearing about becomes reality. We don’t need young players deciding not to play hockey because we don’t have enough rinks,” Jost said.
Lloyd Ney, the manager and holder of a minority interest in Hardee’s IcePlex, said in a recent interview that it’s “very, very hard for an ice skating facility to operate as a private business and that some kind of public-private partnership likely will be necessary.”
Ney also confirmed that the naming rights agreement with Hardee’s ended more than a year ago. The name remains because of the expense of taking down the signage, he said.
As for the city of Chesterfield, Mike Geisel, director of public service who also is co-interim city administrator, said in an earlier interview that there is no proposal now before the City Council and nothing in the works for public financial involvement.
Meanwhile concern in the hockey and skating community is mingled with memories.
“My greatest memories of Hardee’s Ice Plex is definitely the high school final four. In my opinion, it’s the best weekend of hockey in St. Louis.” Jost said.
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[Editor’s note: sports reporter Warren Mayes contributed to this story.]