Local rink closes unexpectedly

By Doug Gorman and Billy Corriher

For the second time in recent months, Ice Atlanta has locked its doors without notice, leaving figure skaters and hockey players on the Southside upset.

It's also left Melody Dunn wondering how her daughter will spend her 10th birthday on Saturday. Dunn had put down a deposit for her daughter's birthday party and came to the rink Thursday when she tried to call the skating facility but wasn't getting a response.

"It's really disappointing to think something like this could happen," she said. "But now I have to scramble to find a place to celebrate my daughter's birthday with her friends."

Disappointment was the feeling among parents including Becky Newell who didn't have the heart to tell her hockey playing son Thursday morning he wouldn't be attending stick practice that night.

Newell and others found out the rink was shutting down late Wednesday.

The phone to the facility was disconnected, according to the operator.

Newell's son has been playing hockey on a traveling team in Alphabet, but decided to get involved in the Morrow rink just this year.

"We thought it would be a great to support our local community rink, so he joined a team here. The rink has been an important part of our lives," she said.

When Dunn got to the rink there was no sign on the door informing skaters that the business was closed, but the doors were locked and the building dark.

Steve Novak, a native of Canada, has served as one of the rink's great ambassadors, trying to promote the game of hockey to residents on the southside of town.

Novak is not paid by the rink, but he felt so bad about Dunn's predicament he gave her part of her deposit back out of his own pocket.

Tom Wicks, the parent of a hockey player at the facility, said that when the facility originally closed in June 2003, he told the owners he would try to find investors to keep the rink open.

"I'm just trying to save the ice for the kids," he said. "They just have a wonderful time."

Wicks said he raised money from other parents and eventually secured a loan to purchase the rink. But he said his bank misreported his financial status to his lender, who then would not lend him the money.

Wicks said he had an agreement with the owners that rent would accrue until the deal went through. But when it began to take longer to secure the loan to buy the rink, the owners shut down the rink.

Wicks said that while he was in charge of the rink and planning to buy it, parents volunteered and the rink had a real community feeling.

"Everybody had a great time," he said. "They don't want it to close."

Wicks said he would continue to look for a lender.

"I'm not quitting until I fall over dead or every bank I find says no," he said.

One of the owners, Joseph Giovinco, was reached Thursday night at home but did not want to comment on the status of the rink.

Although Novak, a Delta airlines employee, lives in Newnan, most of his free time was spent at the rink where he volunteered with the Ice Atlanta Smashers, the rink's hockey program.

Novak coaches two teams, which includes his two sons. He also has gotten close to the nearly 60 boys and girls involved in the hockey program.

"This is like losing part of the community," he said. "When we moved down here from Canada, this was a great way for my kids to get involved. We had so many great people volunteering their time."

The rink's hockey program was just starting to thrive. In addition to the youth-league programs, high schools and the Georgia Tech club team rented ice time at the rink.

Clayton State was also starting a figure skating class as part of its physical education program.

"We just hope something changes and the rink reopens," said Novak. "We need an ice rink on the southside."

The closest rinks are the four ones located on the north side of Atlanta, at least a 40-minute drive for the Clayton and Henry county residents who used the Morrow facility.

The Morrow ice skating facility has been operating since 2000.

The rink is located on busy Mt. Zion Road near several restaurants and other businesses.

It was operating as late as this week and there was no indication it would be shut down so abruptly, several persons said.

The facility was open to the public for individual skating or parties and was the home rink for a number of area youth and adult hockey teams.