There’s no shortage of activities — or room— at the newly minted Florida Hospital Center Ice.
From learning to skate, to playing hockey and curling, there’s plenty to do at the much-ballyhooed facility, which measures 150,500 square feet.
On Jan. 28, during the facility’s opening weekend, hundreds of youth and adults packed into what has been described as “the largest ice sports facility in the Southeastern United States.”
Patrons came from as far away Brooksville, Valrico and Lithia to check out the complex, at 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., which is off Interstate 75 at the State Road 56 interchange in Wesley Chapel.
Others visited from nearby Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and New Tampa.
And, while two of the complex’s five rinks remain under construction, there were plenty of options to accommodate ice enthusiasts of all kinds.
The Olympic rink, which measures 200 feet by 100 feet, was fully occupied with public skaters and learn-to-skate participants.
Two NHL-sized rinks (200 feet by 85 feet), meanwhile, were teeming with hours of youth recreational hockey evaluations and adult pickup games.
During breaks in ice action, spectators marveled at the fully stocked pro shop and other amenities at the two-story facility.
Gordie Zimmermann, managing partner of Florida Hospital Center Ice, is one contented man.
“We’ve exceeded our expectations from the get-go,” Zimmermann said. “Like participation for the Learn to Skate, everything’s almost double of what we thought it would be coming out of the starting block, so it’s been terrific.”
That, too, applies to registration figures for the center’s adult hockey leagues.
The initial eight-week “reduced” session has 25 teams signed up, consisting of beginner, intermediate and advanced leagues.
“We thought we would maybe get 10 teams in the first adult (league),” Zimmermann said. He’s elated with the current registration figures.
Additionally, more teams are anticipated to sign up once 12-week sessions commence.
Besides recreation league offerings, the center also will be home base for several other area-based teams and organizations.
The Wiregrass Ranch and Freedom high school club teams have signed up. The same goes for the University of South Florida Ice Bulls, of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Tampa Bay Junior Hockey Club, an elite training development program, also has jumped aboard.
Consequently, a bevy of regional and international tournaments and camps are in the works, Zimmermann said.
One of the more intriguing on the docket is the World V-Red Prospect Advanced Camp, from July 16 through July 21.
Labeled as Canada’s No. 1 hockey program, it’s the first time ever the weeklong event will be hosted in the United States.
“The biggest thing that we’re doing,” Zimmermann said, “is that we’re bringing in major tournaments through the summer, and we’re going to bring in another one that’s going to be huge for the area for hockey.”
The complex, too, has drawn the eyes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who’ve signed on as program rink sponsors.
No plans are in the works for the Lightning to relocate their practices from the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, however.
Other visiting NHL teams, though, may practice at the Wesley Chapel complex during their road trips to Florida; multiple NHL organizations have already expressed interest in doing so, Zimmermann said.
Still, there will be ample ice time for everyone — even the average skater or recreational hockey player.
“We can do a lot more…and still keep our public skate and our learn-to-skate program going; we don’t have to cancel it,” Zimmermann explained.
Other key features of the complex, interestingly, don’t even require ice.
Rinks can be converted to accommodate large corporate events and dry floor sports, such as basketball, volleyball and box lacrosse.
“We have a sub-floor that goes over the ice,” Zimmermann said, “and a sport court goes on top of one of the NHL rinks. We can put it on any one, and we can also do it on the mini-rink.”
There’s also a six-lane, 90-yard running track, and a 2,600-square-foot fitness facility.
All those features, Zimmermann said, set the facility apart from other complexes.
“Really, there’s nothing comparable to this south of New York all the way through the West Coast,” Zimmermann said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Shari Klutz, skating the center’s program director, agrees.
“I love this facility,” said Klutz, who previously served as figure skating director at the Ashburn Ice House in Virginia. “They thought of a lot of key things, and made it unique. It has every training aspect you could need.”
The ice complex has been a long time coming for the area.
Previously, many Pasco and north Hillsborough residents would trek to Brandon to get their hockey and skating fix. Others may have used the Clearwater Ice Arena or the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar.
Florida Hospital Center Ice was expected to open in October 2015. However, various permitting and technological setbacks stalled the $28 million capital investment project.
Zimmermann pointed to a lengthy commissioning period, balancing of the building and “other things out of our control.”
“I wouldn’t say they were necessarily delays,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a very complicated building.”
He added: “We would have loved to be open before the (Christmas) holiday, but we’re going to be here a long time, so we wanted to do it right.”
With a relative dearth of ice complexes in the Bay Area, Center Ice is forecasted as an economic driver for both Wesley Chapel and Pasco County.
The county already has five hotels in development, including two directly adjacent to the complex.
Officials believe the massive facility will attract 1.5 million to 2 million visitors annually, with 40 percent coming from outside Tampa Bay.
Though open and operable, the entire complex is still not fully complete.
Finishing touches are still being made to the fitness center and two rinks. The full-service restaurant, Top Shelf Sports Lounge, is slated to open sometime this month.
Published February 22, 2017