Ground that was broken this morning by hockey sticks will soon be churned and moved by graders and backhoes.
Construction officially and ceremoniously began Nov. 1 on the ION International Training Center just outside the town of Leesburg.
The 100,000-square-foot facility will house two, NHL-size ice rinks, with seating for up to 5,500 people, as well as a full-service gym, restaurant and pro shop. When it is finished by the end of summer in 2018, it will fulfill a longtime dream of two-time Romanian Olympic figure skater Luiz Taifas and his wife, Mitra Setayesh.
“My life, since I was 6, has been in ice rinks, either training or competing,” Taifas said. “For years, I was wondering loudly why there was no high-caliber international ice rink in this area, the capitol of the United States.
“My wife finally said, ‘why don’t you stop complaining and do it’ I thought, ‘I will.’”
As a young prodigy in Romania, Taifas said his teammates and fellow Olympians became like his family.
“I was put on the Olympic team from when I was 11, so I was taken away from my family and boarded with the other athletes training for the Olympics,” he said, adding, “Yes, (gold medal gymnast) Nadia Comaneci was one of them. “I made the Olympics twice, but I only competed once because I got injured.”
After 14 years on the Romanian National Team, Taifas has spent the last 19 coaching, training and judging international figure skating. He moved to Virginia when he began teaching and training in Reston.
“I moved here to Loudoun County about 15 years ago, and I just love it,” he said.
Taifas said it took about a year to put together plans for the ION ITC, and several more years fine-tuning the plans to include the training gym and a multi-functioning arena floor. The ITC will be able to reconfigure the space to host events as diverse as political conventions, concerts, graduations and horse shows.
“In all of the ice rinks I was in, I took notes about what was done right and what was done wrong, and this needs to be done right,” Taifas said. “I have gathered together for our project the best of the best, from around the world. From our coaches and trainers to our gym manager, we have brought in people to be in sync with our philosophy – positive energy. ION.”
The ice arena and training center are part of Peterson Companies’ Compass Creek development, which is sandwiched between the Leesburg Executive Airport and the Dulles Greenway. Compass Creek is a 440-acre, mixed-use community, which already has sold land for the construction of a Wal-Mart. According to Taylor Chess, president of development for Peterson, the development eventually will include 2.5 million square feet of office space, 550,000 square feet of retail, as well as flex industrial, hotel and supporting spaces.
“When I started talking about building an arena, everyone told me, ‘You don’t want to deal with the county, and the permits, with the bureaucracy and the construction people. Are you crazy?’ Taifas said. “We were scared.
“Over the past two years, we have been pleasantly surprised by those so-called bureaucrats. We couldn’t have been welcomed and received more warmly if they were family.”
Taylor Chess, president of development for Peterson Companies, said the project — and Taifas and Setayesh – are perfect fits for Compass Creek.
“I just love their tenacity,” Chess said. “Their broker approached us and an activity center like they are contemplating is a great catalyst for a mix-use development. It made perfect sense.”
Taifas said the training center is not just the culmination of a dream for him, but he hopes to pass along his love of skating to the generations to come.
“This is for the children and adults of our community to reach for their dreams, whether to enjoy skating recreationally or to produce the next generation of Olympians from right here,” he said. “That is my dream.”