WESLEY CHAPEL — Youth hockey players across the Tampa Bay area will no longer have a shortage of ice with the announcement Thursday of a $17 million skating complex that developers say would be the largest in Florida.
The Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex, to be located at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, would feature four rinks, including one that could be converted for lacrosse, basketball and soccer.
"It's a great win for Pasco County; it's a win for the region," Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said during a news conference in which developer Gordie Zimmermann unveiled site plans. He closed on the 13-acre property earlier in the day for about $2.6 million from Skinner Brothers Realty.
The overall cost is about $20 million, all from private investors that Zimmermann says have already committed to the project. The two-story complex will feature one Olympic-sized and two standard-sized rinks, and one that can be converted to meeting space. Upstairs includes a restaurant that overlooks three ice rinks.
Developers also announced that a 120-room hotel is planned south of the complex.
"It's all about the kids," said Zimmermann, a former amateur player whose son plays for Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel. Zimmermann, who also was general manager at the hockey complex in Brandon, said he hopes to launch a hockey academy in addition to public skating and adult leagues. The developer, Z Mitch LLC, will break ground as soon as it gets permits, with an expected opening by fall 2015.
Zimmermann revealed his plans three months ago to Pasco tourism officials. On Thursday, former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk turned on a ceremonial table lamp to kick off the project in homage to the phrase "light the lamp," used when a player scores a goal.
Supporters hailed the project as a much-needed victory for Pasco, which is still stinging from financial giant T. Rowe Price's backing out of a deal that would have brought 1,600 jobs to Land O'Lakes. Developers expect the ice rink complex to bring 20 permanent jobs and 20 part-time jobs.
"I can tell you firsthand there's a severe shortage of ice availability for all ages," Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce president and hockey dad Jeff Novotny said. "I can count on one hand the number of ice arenas within an hour's drive."
Meanwhile, some in the Tampa Bay area skating community remained skeptical about Zimmermann's plans.
Pat DeLorenzo, an NHL official and owner of a tire and auto repair business in Clearwater, is in talks to build a $10 million rink off State Road 54 near the Grove shopping center — less than a 5-mile drive from Zimmermann's site.
DeLorenzo expects to finalize the sale on the 13-acre site in July. He doubts four rinks would succeed and noted that his plan for two NHL-sized rinks corresponds to area demographics.
"One of the things I believe is this area does not have anywhere near the ability to have four rinks all working at the same time," he said.
DeLorenzo said the property's owner, Specialty Restaurants Corp. of Anaheim, Calif., would provide some financing. The rest would come from outside investors and DeLorenzo's development company, Sportsplex of America LLC.
He's also considering adding a conference center for $4 million.
"I'm going on the idea that Gordie Zimmermann is not there and I'm doing this as if I'm alone," DeLorenzo said.
Four other facilities with seven rinks operate within 55 miles of each other — in Clearwater, Oldsmar, Brandon and Ellenton.
Al Nicoll, hockey director at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, said he shook his head when he heard about Zimmermann's plans.
"We looked at land in the Pasco area a long time ago," he said. "It was one of those things where we couldn't make a go of it and that was with a single sheet. There's only so much hockey and figure skating, and pleasure skating in the area."
Pasco tourism director Ed Caum has met with Zimmermann and DeLorenzo. He doubts both could succeed if operating at the same time.
"I think the first out of the gate will be able to capitalize on the market now," he said.