WESLEY CHAPEL — A new five-rink ice skating facility billed by its owners as the largest of its kind in the southeast opened up in Wesley Chapel this morning.
The Florida Hospital Center Ice complex includes three National Hockey League size rinks, one Olympic rink and a junior rink.
"This is more than just Tampa Bay," said rink communications director Kim Payne. "It's the biggest facility from here to New York."
When complete, the $22.5 million facility will also include a fitness gym, a pro shop, a snack bar, full restaurant and bar, ballet studio and meeting space, and a 90 yard turfed track, though much of that was still under construction during Wednesday's ceremonial puck drop. And there will be curling.
Rink officials said they've already lined up hockey tournaments, including a national adult tournament in April and the high school state championship in February. Figure skating, too, will have a place at the rink.
With such a large investment, though, the trick will be ensuring skaters are on the ice at all times, not just at night and on the weekends during the winter. Gordie Zimmermann, managing partner with developer Z Mitch, LLC, said Florida's climate will make that easier.
"Public skating in Florida is different than public skating up north," he said. "A lot of rinks take their ice out in the summer. Here, people skate to get out of the heat."
The rink will also serve as home ice to the University of South Florida's hockey team, Zimmermann said.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will sponsor a recreational league that operates from Center Ice, as well as some camps and clinics. It won't practice at Center Ice, though, as they have an arrangement to practice at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, which has two pro-sized rinks.
But Zimmermann, who was also one of the developers of the Ice Sports Forum in the 1990s, said he's already heard from NHL teams in other markets that may want to stay at nearby Saddlebrook, a nearby golf and tennis resort in Wesley Chapel, and practice at Center Ice when they come play the Lightning. The Chicago Blackhawks, he said, are one of four teams that have reached out.
For those outside the Tampa Bay area, the rink finally puts Wesley Chapel on the map, said Hope Allen, president and CEO of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
She said people from all over the country will visit, and the economic impact will trickle down to other businesses.
"They're going to stay in our hotels," she said. "They're going to eat in our restaurants. They're going to shop in our stores."
Center Ice also helps Pasco County fulfill its goal of becoming a center for sports tourism. The county already hosts an annual national lacrosse tournament in a sports complex in Wesley Chapel, and plans to develop a 98,000 square foot multipurpose indoor athletic facility in Wiregrass Ranch with RADD sports of Sarasota. The lacrosse tournament generated an estimated $3 million in economic impact when it happened in December.
"Just think about that happening almost every weekend," Zimmermann said. "This is going to be one of the biggest economic engines for Pasco County."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @josh_solomon15.