SURREY — “Shoot! Shoot!” yelled a man in Whalley, but it had nothing to do with the latest round of gun violence in the neighbourhood.
No, this was a roller hockey game, and one particularly vocal player on the Surrey Sasquatch team implored a teammate to fire the puck into the opposition net.
Last Tuesday evening (July 18), the Sasquatch took on the Central City Phantoms in one of the final games ever played at Central City Arena, which has become a rink of dreams for local roller and ball hockey players in recent years.
But the building, once home to the fabled Stardust roller rink, will soon be demolished to make way for a massive tower, leaving its hockey teams with nowhere to play.
The Vilio brothers – Erik, Steve and Glen – have operated Central City Arena since 2010, and their lease is up at the end of July.
“We grew up in Whalley and our parents still live two minutes from here,” said Steve as Erik nodded in agreement.
“We used to come here when it was Stardust, but not a lot,” Erik added. “We played hockey at North Surrey rec, across the street here. That was our place to play.”
In recent years, the Vilio brothers have built a loyal following in the local roller and ball hockey worlds, with rink boards they brought in seven years ago, following the departure of Liquidation World after five years of retail activity in the space.
Today, close to 800 kids and adults play at the arena, home to a rink roughly three-quarters the size of a regulation one for hockey.
The Vilio brothers want to keep the ball rolling, so to speak, and continue to host all that hockey-league action, but their search for a new arena to call home has so far turned up nothing.
“As of right now, we have nowhere to go,” Erik lamented.
“We’ve tried everything, and everywhere, we can, to try to find something at a reasonable price, to build a new arena or to convert an existing building, and nothing. We’re finding it pretty well impossible to replace this facility. It has to be 70 feet wide, and that’s what’s killing us, a clear span of 70 feet (without pillars). You can find the length – 160 feet, 180 – no problem, but the width is tough to find.”
On the Central City Arena site, located on City Parkway just north of 102nd Avenue, developer WestStone Group plans to build a $200-million, 50-storey education centre in partnership with CIBT Education Group. The 550,000-square-foot “GEC Education Mega Center” project would cater to international students.
“International student enrolment across British Columbia has been growing at an astonishing rate of 25 per cent since 2014, generating over $5 billion in gross income for the province,” Toby Chu, president and CEO of CIBT Education Group, stated last September when the project was announced.
“This is despite the fact that B.C. not only has some of the most expensive real estate in the country but also vacancy rates of 0.3 per cent forcing students to live in expensive buildings that aren’t necessarily close in proximity to their school,” he added.
The education centre is set to be located near SFU Surrey, at the Central City tower, and the future Kwantlen Polytechnic University at 10240 135th St.
At their arena, the Vilio brothers have aimed to give kids and adults an education in sportsmanship and fair play.
“We own eight different businesses (including Go Bananas indoor play centres, among others), and the rink is the one we kind of like the most, the one we’re most passionate about,” Erik said. “We could just walk away from it – you know, that’s it, we’re done, but we want a place to play, for our kids to play and for the community to play.”
With leagues at the arena “pretty much” at capacity, Steve figures Central City is probably the busiest rink in all of Surrey.
“It’s definitely one of the busiest, because there is no ice cleaning and no delay, it’s just game after game after game, bang, bang, bang,” he said. “We also do the public skate, because it used to be Stardust years ago, of course, so we have the skate on Saturday nights, and that’s been going forever. That’ll be done, too.”
The “final sessions ever” for public roller skating will be held at the arena on Saturday (July 29) at 8 and 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Vilio brothers have met with City of Surrey representatives in an attempt to arrange a deal, of some kind, to build and open an arena elsewhere in the city.
“They’ve been helpful, but haven’t been able to find us anything, any sort of land or building,” Erik said.
“We’re looking for an existing building – that was the first plan when we were told our lease wouldn’t be (renewed),” he added. “But then we started looking to maybe build our own, but the price is too expensive. We did contact the City of Surrey to see if they had any land for us, because they did that with the tennis bubble (Surrey Tennis Centre) near Highway 10, which was a deal where they had city land and someone put the bubble on that land (in 2015). We were looking for a partnership like that. They (the city) were really nice but they couldn’t find anything for us. As of right now, we’re being told there is no city land available to us.”
Added Steve: “We are still looking all over the place, even though the lease is ending. We’ve come close to finding a location a few times, but nothing has panned out.”
On Monday, Erik said the brothers recently asked WestStone for a four-month extension to continue to operate the arena, but were told no.
“It sounds like as soon as we’re out of there on July 31, the building will soon be gone,” he said.