Henry Brabham originally built the LancerLot in 1984 with its main purpose being to house the professional Virginia Lancers ice hockey team.
Now in 2018, some 34 years later, construction is once again under way as the LancerLot Sports Complex has been sold and is undergoing major renovations to once again become home to ice hockey in the Roanoke Valley.
Construction began on the original LancerLot Sports Complex in 1984 and the ice hockey rink opened that fall midway through the professional Atlantic Coast Hockey League season and became home to the Virginia Lancers.
However, grand opening of the entire facility did not take place until June 1985.
In fact, The Vinton Messenger article previewing the opening said, “The 115,000-square-foot center may be finished Saturday,” with the third-floor banquet hall still being completed.
The hockey arena occupied half of the $3.8 million building, but the sports complex housed a variety of facilities, based around an athletic club, described by the newspaper as “possibly the most complete in western Virginia.” The club included “a complimentary nursery, a relatively large professional and teaching staff, an Olympic-size swimming pool, an outdoor sun patio, a padded running track, Nautilus and Universal workout equipment, six racquetball courts (which could also be used for Walleyball—volleyball off the walls), an aerobics room, two saunas, and two hot tubs in the locker rooms.”
The swimming pool had eight 25-yard lanes in one direction and six 26-meter lanes in another direction. In addition, there were one- and three-meter diving boards. The plan was for swimming classes and water aerobics to be held in the pool.
The workout room also contained stationary bicycles, rowing machines, and dumbbells, but no free weights.
Owner Henry Brabham planned a gymnastics school and a school of dance. There was a pro shop with a fully equipped sporting goods store and a scuba diving shop.
The 5,000-foot banquet room could seat 450 people; the kitchen was almost complete. Brabham was hoping to find a company to lease and run a restaurant at the LancerLot.
There was also an electronic game room.
Brabham did his best to put the “grand” in grand opening. The event ran from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on June 8, with four bands performing (rock and country) and an “old-fashioned barn dance” in the hockey area that evening. The pool was open to the public for free swimming. There was live broadcasting of the event by local radio stations and demonstrations in dance, aerobics, water aerobics, and bodybuilding.
Staff conducted group tours with prizes given out throughout the day—including two 10-speed bicycles, three one-month memberships to the athletic club, two free oil changes and lubrication jobs (Brabham also owned Lancer Petroleum), five $10 gasoline gift certificates, and free LancerLot T-shirts.
Discount initiation fees were offered for the day. Club memberships at the LancerLot when it opened in 1985 were initiation fees of $145 for individuals with $35 monthly dues. For a family the charge was an initiation fee of $190 and $55 monthly dues.
“We want people in the community to realize that it’s here,” said Brabham. “It doesn’t do any good to spend money and build something if they’re not going to use it.”
Vinton Mayor Charlie Hill cut the red ribbon. At the ceremony, the mayor praised Brabham for “sticking his neck out and showing confidence in the community” by building the facility. Town Council had passed a resolution that week honoring Brabham with the “respect, esteem, and appreciation of the Town of Vinton for his significant contribution to our community.”
“It’s going to be great for the town and the economy,” said Hill.
Town Manager George Nester,and Councilmen Jimmy Reynolds, Jack Shelton, and Bobby Altice also attended the opening, along with Harry Dickens from the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
Roanoke County had sent along a Certificate of Appreciation for contributing to economic development.
“It will be such a tremendous drawing card for us,” said Nester. “Traditionally, new executives or new management coming into the Roanoke area have always been referred to Southwest Roanoke, not Vinton. One big reason was they said there’s nothing over in Vinton.
“Now you’re looking at this facility along with Smith Mountain Lake and the Blue Ridge Parkway and they’re being told to look at us,” Nester continued. “I believe real estate agents will start referring new people to Vinton.”
Nester said he was impressed with what Brabham had done in completing the building in 10 short months. Brabham said those 10 months had consisted of 16- or 17-hour days for the most part.
“Nobody would believe we could build something this big in 10 months, but we did,” said Brabham.
“Henry had to have a whole lot of vision to carry it through,” said Nester. “We’d like to see Henry be just as successful as he can be. It’s a big gamble; he’s the type who will win big with it.”
The newspaper article said, “Virtually from the day Brabham moved to Vinton from South Carolina in 1962— after buying Vinton Oil for $103,000, he has had a significant impact on life here. He served on Town Council and as mayor. He helped develop the town’s water system, an accomplishment that grows in significance each year.
“The LancerLot, however, is more than a major new business that will have economic impact,” the article continued. “It is a focal point for community pride. Brabham likes that.”