Roller derby team losing practice space, looking for new home

Fast Forward Skate Center to be demolished next spring for housing development

MADISON, Wis. – It’s been a Madison staple for decades, so for many, losing Fast Forward means saying goodbye to a place filled with memories. But for one team it also means worrying about the future.

Since 2004, Madison Roller Derby has called the city’s only skating rink home.  Even when their fan base grew too large to have bouts at the rink, they continued to hold their weekly practice there. But next spring that’s coming to an end.

“It’s still kind of hard to imagine what our life looks like without it,” said player Kimberly Rose. “I don’t know roller derby without Fast Forward.”

Rose, derby name Dalek, said that after seeing so many businesses affected by the COVID- 19 pandemic go under they knew losing the Fast Forward Skate Center was a possibility, but the reality of it is something the team wasn’t ready for.

“I think that we’ve always just kinda hoped that it would be later and later –we’ll figure it out later and we’ll deal with it later,” she said. “Now there is really no more later.”

On Monday the city’s planning commission moved forward with a proposal that would tear down the old building, which housed the roller rink since it opened it 1990, and put in its place a 4-story affordable housing development.

rendering of proposed housing development to replace the Fast Forward      rendering of proposed housing development to replace the Fast Forward

“We’re pretty heartbroken,” said player Caitlin Quillen, derby name Quill. “This is such a stable part of my life and a part of my identity. As corny as that is to say, being a roller skater, being in roller derby is so critical to what I know to be true.”

It’s a feeling and a commitment to skating shared by Fast Forward operations manager Justin Alling who’s been the rink’s only employee for the last few years.

In the more than two decades since he first started working there at just 14 years old, Alling has taken on pretty much every role at the rink from referee to DJ, to manning the game room, ticket counter, and concessions.

“I mean literally without me the place doesn’t stay open,” he said. “I stuck with it because I love doing it.”

He said for 7 years he tried to work with the owner to purchase the property because he wanted to revitalize it but they could never come to an agreement. Now with the building set to be demolished, he’s channeling his work ethic into opening what he hopes will be a bigger and better rink.

He’s on the market for a 30 thousand sqft facility with plans to install wood floors for easy gliding, duel rinks to grow their roller hockey league, and longer hours complete with a full-time staff.

“We need to have a skating rink that’s gonna be open all day, open at 10 o’clock 7 days a week,” he detailed. “Able to host birthday parties, private events for daycares, schools, day camps, you know have training sessions throughout the day.”

To help make that dream a reality and speed up the process, Alling started a fundraiser and is asking the Madison community to donate—adding to the money he already earned himself for the rink.

“The funds that we had to buy Fast Forward—our numbers were based on that— going somewhere else it’s going to cost a little more because it’s not going to be a turnkey business,” he explained. “We’re going to have to renovate; we’re going to have to get all new equipment.”

That means, even if Alling can find a new facility before next spring, there will most likely still be a gap in service and the Madison Roller Derby will still need to find another place to practice.

“The scariest part is that it may or may not come to the point where we either rent a really expensive place that would be unattainable for probably at least half if not more of our league or we’ll cease to exist.”

The league’s co-general manager, Cory Hamilton, derby name Slam Chowdah, said right now there are a lot of people working to make sure that doesn’t happen, so she’s hopeful they’ll find a suitable place to skate.

Still, they’re an entirely volunteer-run non-profit with limited resources, which means finding a new space where they can afford rent will be challenging.

It’s one of the reasons Hamilton said they’re also trying to fundraise themselves and possibly restarting their capital campaign.

While their own future with Fast Forward remains uncertain, Hamilton said she wants to see Alling succeed because she believes having a skate rink in Madison is crucial

“If he gets his rink going I think that would be amazing,” she said. “We’d love that for our youth and all those older folks that like to skate as well.”

Quillen also said the team is looking forward to spending less time and energy on just trying to exist and getting back to their outreach initiatives, introducing more people to the joy of the derby world.

An official closing date for Fast Forward has not yet been set.