Back when the shopping mall craze was first hitting the nation, Philips Highway Plaza – or Philips Mall – won the race to become Jacksonville’s first glimpse at the trend.
The mall opened in 1960 and was fairly successful initially, with anchors such as Montgomery Ward and Woolworth’s. It became the center of a busy Philips Highway corridor, then referred to as the Miracle Mile.
But by the ’80s, the mall was entering decline. Rather than shutting down, it was rebranded as a discount center. It re-opened in 1985, and a year later a Sam’s Club opened up in the center’s parking lot near I-95.
Unfortunately, the mall’s rebranding strategy didn’t work out, and by the ’90s it shut its doors for good. Given the reduced traffic to the center, Sam’s Club opted to close its doors as well.
Sensing an opportunity, local businessman and former hockey coach Bob Sabourin joined a group that bought the former Sam’s Club building, and in 1993 they opened Skate World, a new ice skating venue.
The venue came in handy when its owners then purchased the Jacksonville Bullets, a minor-league hockey team. It served as home to the team when it began to struggle with filling the Jacksonville Coliseum. It would later host the Barracudas, a different minor-league team, for similar reasons. It got an exterior facelift in the late ’90s when the adjacent mall was converted into Metro Square, an office park.
In 2004, plans emerged to convert about half of the building’s space into a multi-sport complex featuring volleyball and basketball courts among other features. This plan came to fruition, and merged with Skate World to become Jacksonville Ice and Sportsplex.
Today, the venue continues to operate as Jacksonville’s sole public ice skating rink, serving as a practice facility for nearby youth hockey teams as well as a popular site for basketball and volleyball tournaments.
It’s not a particularly glamorous venue, but it’s most certainly an example of how to effectively turn an abandoned big-box store into something useful to the community.