White Rock Skate Center owner Chuck Connor says he sold his property — a 20,000 square-foot, 43-year-old building built by his dad sitting on about two acres — to a developer that’s been asking him to sell since about 2009.
“We had been thinking about it over the years,” says Connor, who is known among other things, for his 40-year never-missing-a-day-of-work streak.
There was that one time, when he was 28 and he and his wife, Laura, went on their honeymoon. “But my dad was still here at that time; it was before I took over,” he says.
Connor is something like the Sam Rothstein (a shrewd casino operator portrayed by Robert De Niro in a 1995 movie) of the roller rink, overseeing the center’s day-to-day operations, sometimes from the floor, often on the security monitors that line the wall of his office. Sure, he would never put a person’s head in a vice, but he has been known to ban cardinal rule breakers for life.
One of the most important lessons he learned from his father: keep the rules the same for everyone.
“And, it doesn’t happen often, maybe one in a million, a kid breaks a rule — steals or fights — and when that happens, they are out.”
His wife, co-owner Laura, chuckles at the De Niro comparison.
Seriously, though, the place has meant everything to Connor and his family. Their daughter, Leslie, grew up at the rink, and worked there while she was a teenager.
“She actually had her first gig here when she was about 4 or 5 years old,” he recalls. “We paid her a dollar to hand out fliers. I still remember her first pair of tiny purple skates.”
A wall outside the offices contains a massive collage of photos snapped over the years. Both Connors point out images and recall names of just about every young person who has ever worked here.
The understanding that they will be gone from there forever soon brings tears — from Laura, definitely, and they even seem to brim in seen-it-all Chuck’s eyes; especially when they talk about all the old friends and employees who have contacted them since the Friday in September when the Advocate reported the imminent closing.
“My phone blew up that night,” Laura says, speaking the lingo of so many neighborhood high schoolers with whom the couple works closely.
But Laura is ready to spend a weekend night with her husband for once, a New Year’s Eve even.
They plan to hop on their Harley-Davidson or sporty convertible — already acquired — and travel the countryside.
They’ll head to Disney World in Orlando, because their talented Leslie has a fulltime job there now.
As so many neighborhood residents lament the loss of the rink, others are more concerned about what will become of the property and the one-tenant-occupied (at time of publication) shopping strip beside it.
Connor pleads ignorance on those matters.
“I’m not in the loop on that,” he says. He just knows he sold to a guy who offered years ago to purchase the rink.
He means Stuart Jones, who also owns the strip center land.
Advocatemag.com readers might recall that in 2008 Jones’ American Brownfields Corporation requested a zoning change from commercial retail to mixed use on the roughly four acres at the corner of Shoreview and Ferndale. Jones asked to replace the shopping center with an upscale, mid-rise apartment complex plus some 60,000 square feet of retail or office space. The L Streets and Lake Ridge Estates homeowners associations at the time supported the proposed change, and the City Plan Commission passed it unanimously.
As more neighbors became aware of the plan, many voiced concern, but it was too late for that. The Dallas City Council passed rezoning to Planned Development 779 that year. And it allows for everything from multifamily and single-family residences to ambulatory services, nursing home, schools, alcoholic beverage establishments (that would require a special use permit), other types of restaurants and entertainment facilities.
At the time, after rumors of a high-rise condominium building surfaced, the developer via comment on the Advocate website assured the neighborhood that the PD includes height restrictions: “All structures must comply with the Residential Proximity Slope. This is a 3:1 slope that protects single-family property from having tall buildings tower over their homes. The PD, as proposed, will restrict the allowable heights to specific areas and restrict the overall height of any structure to 95 feet.”
In 2009 the same developer, now under the name LLC Shoreview Viola, requested, as a “potential buyer” to amend and expand the zoning to include the land that occupies White Rock Skate Center and a neighboring credit union.
At the time of Jones’ 2009 rezoning request, Connor said he had no intention of selling the family business.
Since the Connors decided to do “the hardest thing they have ever done,” according to Laura — sell (for an amount they did not wish to disclose) — redevelopment could finally be on the horizon.
Zach Daniels, pastor at Antioch Church, the last remaining tenant in that 4-acre Shoreview strip center owned by Jones’ LLC, says his church soon is moving north to a space in the Catholic Charities building off the I-635 service road.
The timeline is loose, he says, and his official reason is that the congregation has outgrown the space on Shoreview. He says he knows no more than us about what will happen to the properties. He does know that the members of Antioch are devastated by the news of White Rock Skate’s closure.
“White Rock Skate is near and dear to everyone born and raised in Lake Highlands,” he says.
At the time of publication, Jones had not returned multiple phone calls or emails; his assistant did tell us he was out of the country.
Several community members, including members of a group that managed to save and designate as a historical site the old Lakewood Theater on the opposite side of White Rock Lake, have inquired about buying the rink in order to save it, but that was not an option, according to Connor.
White Rock Skate closed at 5 p.m. Oct. 16, followed by a private affair for family, current and ex-employees and police/security guards who have helped them over the years.
Hundreds from our neighborhood and beyond packed the rink last month for one final roll, one closing couple skate, one parting Hokey Pokey and bye-bye balloon pop, a so-long limbo and a farewell fall (or few).