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Youth hockey growth feeds new Predators ice center in Bellevue

Youth hockey growth feeds new Predators ice center in Bellevue

Mayor Megan Barry said Metro plans to pay between $25 million and $30 million for the combined ice center and community center, which will occupy around 120,000 square feet.

Sean Henry isn’t sure whether the Ford Ice Center is the nation’s busiest but the Nashville Predators president and CEO says it’s definitely close.

It’s become so popular, he said, that it’s time for another.

A growing demand for hockey in Nashville, particularly among youth, has prompted the Predators to take the same template that has worked at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch to another Nashville neighborhood — Bellevue.

A few hundred Bellevue residents and Predators fans joined Metro and team officials near an empty field at the old Bellevue Center mall for the long-awaited formal announcement of a future community ice center in Bellevue and new community center next door.

“We created more kids to skate, more kids to enjoy it, more adult teams and the demand for the next one became greater,” Henry said of the ripple effects from the Antioch facility. “You may be able to challenge whether it’s the busiest. What it is is the best run ice center in North America.

“With Bellevue Ice Center coming along, we’re going to now be able to do tournaments with hundreds of teams working with Centennial Sportsplex, Bellevue and the Ford Ice Center,” he said. “What we can create is so much bigger than just one more ice sheet.”

The Tennessean was the first to report the project earlier this week, but the lack of anticipation didn’t stop the pageantry of blue and yellow balloons and a marching band to kick things off.

For the Predators, it’s another step in hockey and ice skating’s steady expansion in Nashville since the team started play 20 years ago.

“Is this exciting or what?” said Olympic gold medalist and Franklin resident Scott Hamilton, who leads an ice skating academy at the Ford Ice Center.

He intends to expand that program to the Bellevue ice center, which will be mirrored largely off the Ford Ice Center in terms of design and amenities.

“We’ve had 16 Olympians and world champions come and help coach our skaters throughout,” he said. “And we’re going to bring that to this new facility.”

Mayor Megan Barry, on hand for the announcement, said Metro plans to pay between $25 million and $30 million for the combined ice center and community center, which will occupy around 120,000 square feet. Barry intends to include the project in her upcoming capital budget. Approval would require the council to sign off this spring.

Like the deal Metro approved to pay for the Ford Ice Center, the Predators are expected to pay an annual lease to the city, but the parameters of the Bellevue deal are still unclear. Metro and the Predators also have agreements for the team’s use of Bridgestone Arena and Centennial Sportsplex.

Under the Ford Ice agreement, Metro paid $14 million to build the Ford Ice Center and the Metro Sports Authority manages the facility. The Predators pay annual rent, between $250,000 and $350,000 over 20 years to use the facility. Ticket tax revenues from Bridgestone Arena also go toward its toward the debt service.

“It’s going to have a huge economic impact out here just like it’s done for other parts of the county,” Barry said of the Bellevue ice center. “By putting those sheets of ice out here, we know we’re going to have more visitors, we’re going to have more recreation and the hotels out here are going to be full.

“This project is a great start for Bellevue,” she said.

Components of One Bellevue Place, which started with the demolition of the old mall in 2015, is slated to begin opening at the end of this year. The hockey facility’s groundbreaking is expected this summer ahead of an opening in September 2018.

“The vision is to have a compact, walkable multi-use project and the Predators facility is a perfect use to be added to our mix,” said Tim Sittema, managing partner of Crosland Southeast, the developer overseeing the project. “The tournaments, the activities, the events they have here will support the restaurants and the apartments. It’s a synergistic design and I could not be happier.”

Councilwoman Sheri Weiner, who represents the Bellevue area, called the ice center the latest for a “transformative project” that will create a hub for entertainment, recreation, shopping and now skating.

“This is truly the catalyst for the vision that was set forth when I was elected to renovate Bellevue into a destination home where people want to live, work play and now … ,” Councilwoman Sheri Weiner said.

The crowd finished her sentence:

“Skate!”

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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