A world-class ice skating rink, owned and managed by a former Olympian, is headed to the Leesburg area.
Luiz Taifas and his wife, Mitra Setayesh, are set to decide at month’s end the exact location for the ION International Training Center, a 95,000-square-foot facility that the couple hopes will be the training grounds for the area’s next crop of Olympic ice skaters.
Taifas is a former Olympic figure skater and Romanian national champion, who at one time ranked among the top five in his class worldwide. According to Setayesh, the desire to open a world-class skating training center and ice rink had been “cooking” in her husband’s head for years.
“He started skating at three and was competing at six. At 11, he lived in a hotel with the Romanian Olympic team. His life has been ice rinks and competing and excelling at that,” Setayesh said of her husband. “He’s competed in 58 different countries. He’s always looked at rinks, picked what is good, what is bad and in his head combined all the good and thrown away the bad and had this vision.”
That vision is what propelled the couple toward the goal of opening their own training center, which, although dreamed up for years, began in earnest 10 years ago. Armed with her business background, Setayesh, who at one time owned a language school in Paris, France and now operates an ad agency out of the couple’s Lansdowne home, began putting together a business plan. The couple had long wanted to anchor the business near their home, and the market research confirmed that the Leesburg area was indeed the right place, she recalls. Taifas, who coaches at Skatequest in Reston, also wanted to make sure the training center and rink was not taking away business from, or competing with, the Reston rink or the Ashburn Ice House.
But the couple put the brakes on their plan when the economic recession hit and didn’t restart their journey until just about eight months ago, Setayesh said. With the business plan numbers then largely out of date, it was back to the drawing board. However, once again the numbers all pointed to Leesburg, she said.
With the goal of still being a training center and community ice rink, the couple decided to add an additional component to the plan that could add to the center’s potential—arena seating.
“There’s no ice skating rink between Hershey, PA, and Raleigh, NC, with stadium seating,” Setayesh said.
Adding stadium seating could allow for the center to host events such as Disney on Ice, as well as conventions, competitions and even the Junior Olympics. In the summer months, as the floor is multifunctional, the center could even host concerts and graduation ceremonies for local high schools, Setayesh said.
“There’s a definite need for that,” she said of the latter, as many Loudoun high school students and families still trek to the EagleBank Arena, formerly known as the Patriot Center, at George Mason University in Fairfax for graduation ceremonies.
Being of service to the schools is a priority for the couple. Setayesh notes that currently many area high schools’ hockey teams are forced to practice on asphalt or the gym floor, as time at area ice rinks is extremely limited.
“The only time they get to be on the ice is right before a game or at the game, and then they have to share the ice with the team they’re competing against,” she said.
But while the couple is excited about having a public ice rink and hosting events, the focus of a training center and a high caliber rink is of the utmost importance. Hopes are to attract national and even international tournaments, as well as hockey camps and to serve as a training ground for international athletes. The center aims to have coaches and mentors—both current and former pros— available to young skaters and hockey players. The goal being, Setayesh notes, not only to identify and nurture the students with Olympic or competitive potential, but to help students “to be the best at whatever they can be, whatever that may be.”
To supplement all training programs, the center will have a full-service gym to assist in conditioning for the athletes, as well as a café. Taifas envisions a program that identifies local students who may not have the means to afford hockey or skating equipment, but have an interest to train in the sports. The fees for the equipment and training would be waived as long as the students maintain their training programs as well as adequate academic marks at school, Setayesh said.
The couple hopes to select the location for the center by month’s end. They are choosing between two locations, one inside the Town of Leesburg and one just outside of it. Setayesh said construction will take about a year.
True to its namesake, ION hopes to spread “positive energy” throughout the community, Setayesh said. The story of how the name was settled on is as unique as its mission. Setayesh recalls how she suggested the name to Taifas because of its meaning of positive energy. While she was happy with the name she had long hoped to memorialize Taifas’ late father in some way with the couple’s venture. His father, whose nickname was Nelu, died when Taifas was 21, so he was not able to enjoy all of his son’s success, she said. But he was the driving force behind his son when he was young and learning the ropes of figure skating.
So when she suggested the name ION to Taifas, she was surprised when he chuckled. Before she began to apologize for not yet being able to find a way to capture his father’s influence in the center’s name, Taifas asked her if she remembered what his father’s real name was.
“Yes, it was John,” she responded.
“Do you know how that name is spelled in Romanian,” he asked, with his wife responding to the contrary.