VOL. 130 | NO. 142 | Thursday, July 23, 2015
Al Austin knows he’s competing with the sunshine.
Stick-and-puck all-ages hour at the Mid-South Ice House in Olive Branch. The Ice House has a wide variety of summer activities for Memphis-area residents looking to beat the heat.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But Austin, co-owner of the Mid-South Ice House, wants Memphis-area residents looking for a cool summer activity to know he’s in business.
“It’s 52 degrees in the rink,” he said.
The Ice House, located in Olive Branch, has a full slate of summer events aimed at a wide variety of skill sets and interest: freestyle skate times; learn-to-skate classes; hockey and curling leagues; hockey skills classes; cosmic skate nights; summer hockey camps; and even a friends and family night with Anna and Elsa, characters from Disney’s “Frozen.”
Austin founded the business with Jack Rogers, and it all began nine years ago in the lobby of an ice rink in Decatur, Ala. The two fathers of young hockey players were lamenting the loss of the Mall of Memphis while out of town for a game.
Before its demolition in 2003, the mall was home to an ice rink called The Ice Chalet, an area used both by various competitive teams and by the public for ice-related activities. But once the building was knocked down, hockey teams and figure skaters alike had to look elsewhere for ice opportunities.
The DeSoto Civic Center, where the Mississippi Riverkings hockey team practices, allowed for some space, but only provided ice during hockey season. Some teams also used an ice rink in Tupelo, but it, too, was only open seasonally.
For the rest of the year, ice enthusiasts were forced to venture outside the greater Memphis area to practice.
Thus, Rogers and Austin decided it was time to take matters into their own hands.
“There were other projects that never really took off,” said Rogers, who lives in Mississippi. “But the real driving force was that all of our kids wanted a place to play hockey.”
“All that was really needed was someone to step up and assume the risks,” said Austin, a native Memphian. “Up North, there’s enough public cultural skating that municipalities are forced to spend tax money on ice rinks. But those rinks are fewer and farther between in the South.”
Twelve-year-old Sam Everhart and 13-year-old William Davis, right, practice body checks during an all-ages stick-and-puck hour at Mid-South Ice House.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The project took roughly five years to complete: four years of planning, research and permitting, followed by one year of construction. In 2011, the Mid-South Ice House opened for business.
“On our first day, 450 people came to watch the Ole Miss and University of Memphis hockey game,” Austin said.
An enormous gaggle of spectators wasn’t quite what they were expecting when they opened their doors, but it was exciting nonetheless.
The Ice House serves hockey teams from all around the greater Memphis area, including the Ole Miss team, the University of Memphis team, and the Mississippi Riverkings. Figure skaters, too, regularly use the facilities for practice.
Rogers and Austin wanted the Ice House to be an all-inclusive rink.
“A lot of ice skaters in the area were in the same boat as our hockey players,” Rogers said. “So we wanted to give the players a place to play, and the skaters a place to skate.”
In addition to a practice area for local hockey teams and figure skaters, the Ice House provides a space for public skating, for special events and even for curling – an ice sport made popular by the Olympics.
One thing particularly unique to the Ice House involves an opportunity for businesses to use the curling facilities as a team-building exercise. The Ice House brings in the curling master and a certified instructor, and the employees learn to play together.
“Besides, with curling, you don’t even skate,” Rogers said. “It’s merely a game of skill and finesse.”
The facilities also include a concessions stand and opportunities to rent out the Ice House for parties and events.
Austin said that even though his business is open year-round, the peak season is undoubtedly in the winter.
You’d think people would want to come in and cool off,” Austin said. “But I guess we’re just competing with the sunshine.”