PORTLAND — Deke Andrew needed a place to grow his lacrosse business, and the old Riverside Ice Arena needed another face lift.
In September, Andrew, owner of Maine Elite Lacrosse, discovered the old ice arena, which has been empty since an indoor go-cart business closed last spring.
“As my business expanded, I had difficulty booking time at the other indoor facilities,” said Andrew, who also has served as coach of the Cheverus boys’ lacrosse team since its inception in 1999. “Instead of building a place from the ground up, I looked for a building that was vacant and large enough to serve my needs.”
Last week, the new Riverside Athletic Center opened for business, and Maine Elite Lacrosse, which offers year-round training programs for lacrosse players of all ages, held its first training sessions in the 40-year-old structure.
Since the building was erected in 1971 as the first ice arena in Portland, it has had a myriad of uses.
For a time, after the ice arena folded in the late ’70s, it served as a warehouse for the former S.D. Warren Paper Company of Westbrook.
During the past decade, the building, which is across the street from Riverside Municipal Golf Course, has also served as an indoor soccer facility, a roller-blading arena, a paint-ball course and an indoor go-kart facility.
It took Andrew and the building’s owner, Bill Black of Cumberland, about a month to transform the old ice arena into a modern indoor athletic field, with new lighting and green FieldTurf covering a 40- by 75-yard playing area.
Currently, Andrew said Maine Elite Lacrosse needs about eight hours of indoor time for practices and games, but the new facility won’t be used strictly for lacrosse.
“I think we can provide a place to practice and play indoors for some small or mid-sized sports clubs that have no place else to go,” he said.
According to Andrew, a rugby club, a women’s football team, a field hockey club and a soccer club have already booked time.
The Riverside Athletic Center is the latest of about a half-dozen indoor facilities that have cropped up in southern Maine during the past decade.
“In Maine, the indoor season runs from November to April, and that is a big chunk of the year,” Andrew said.
The indoor arenas provide opportunities to athletes of all ages to play sports such as baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, rugby, softball, ultimate Frisbee and volleyball during the cold months.
“We’re always looking for new (revenue) streams,” said Lennie Holmes, who operates the Southern Maine Sports Zone in the former Howard Sportsdome in Saco.
“You have to work at it. You have to anticipate what the next need is for an indoor facility and be the first to provide time for it,” Holmes said.
Recently, the Southern Maine Sports Zone began organizing an adult flag football league, which is scheduled to start next month.
In recent years, a lot of high school athletes have begun to specialize in one sport, and the indoor facilities now provide them with places to play their sport in Maine year-round.
“A lot of kids play a sport when it’s in season,” Andrew explained. “But a lot of them may feel very passionate about one particular sport, and they need a place where they can play it one or two times a week, even when they’re participating in another sport.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]