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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Great ice race is off and running in Pasco County

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— Pasco’s great ice race is on.

Two developers are competing to be the first to close a deal for Wesley Chapel’s first ice skating facility. Gordie Zimmermann, who was involved in Brandon’s Ice Sports Forum, made headlines in February when he announced plans for a $20 million ice facility just off Interstate 75 at the State Road 56 interchange. At 150,000 square feet, the proposed Cypress Creek Ice Hockey facility would have four full-sized rinks, including one Olympic-sized hockey rink, and would be Florida’s largest skating facility.

Little did he know another developer, Pat DeLorezno, had a contract to buy 13 acres on County Road 54, just past The Grove shopping center, with plans for a 115,000-square-foot facility. “We’re talking about a twin rink with 2,500 to 3,000 seating capacity,” he said. “We want to host trade shows and banquets.”

DeLorenzo, a part-time NHL official who lives in Clearwater, said his project would include a 12,000-square-foot banquet space and a catering kitchen, so it could host weddings, community events and meetings. One rink would have stadium seating, like a smaller version of The Forum, and could host concerts and graduation ceremonies. The cost: about $14 million.

His business plan is based on growing the sport locally. “You’re going to have to have six good tournaments — each one could bring 1,000 people to your rink. But you make your money on public skating, in-house leagues, travel teams and figure skating. My thing is, it’s a community center, and my rink is a community rink.”

For much of the last decade, DeLorenzo tried to pull the pieces together to bring hockey and figure skating to Wesley Chapel. He had been working with the Porter family to develop a rink in Wiregrass Ranch, near the proposed baseball complex. That plan got scuttled by Raymond James Financial taking an option on the land, he said.

He also spent years negotiating with the owner of land on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, across from Meadow Pointe, to lift the deed restriction that prohibited development of an ice rink.

When he found the location next to Lexington Oaks on C.R. 54, he thought the hard work was done. He had seller financing and was scheduled to close on the property in September. He even met with officials at the Pasco Economic Development Council to discuss tying his project into its vision for a local convention center.

But Zimmermann may have beaten him to the punch. He said he’s scheduled to close on the property this week. “Our site plan is already in for approval,” he said.

Zimmermann’s vision is slightly different. He said he isn’t seeking any public investment because his business plan relies less on community events and banquets. “The main use of this building will be ice,” he said. “We’re building an ice rink. Our business is built on having hockey tournaments and a lot of overnight stays.”

The building would have one multipurpose pad, so it could be used for indoor sports like tennis, basketball, lacrosse or events like dog shows.

“They asked if it could be used for meetings, or things like high school graduations, and it can, but 90 percent of the time it will be used for ice,” Zimmermann said.

DeLorenzo said he thinks Zimmermann’s project is overly ambitious. “If he can pull this off, he’s a genius,” he said. “We’ve done the studies. There’s no need for four pads in the Tampa Bay market. Four pads is too much ice.”

Pasco Tourism Director Ed Caum has met with both, and he said either plan could succeed.

While DeLorenzo’s design offers more flexibility because of the banquet space and arena seating, Zimmermann’s business plan has other advantages.

“Gordie wants to do the academy there, similar to what they do at Saddlebrook and IMG,” Caum said. “That’s where you can have student athletes moving down here with their family, or a parent, and training full time. That’s not necessarily a tourism generator, but it has a significant economic impact. There’s a whole cottage industry that builds up around these sports academies.”

Florida would be an attractive option for international student athletes because of its mild climate and low cost of living. “That’s a unique anchor, and it’s a very sustainable piece of business for him. It will be a constant source of income,” Caum said.

“I suspect whichever person breaks ground first will end up with the ice sheets,” he said. “It’s going to be a win-win whoever ends up doing it. I think the Tampa Bay Lightning will work with either one to expand the outreach for youth hockey.”

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said the franchise owners are excited about the potential to grow the sport in a part of the county that’s been underserved for quite a while. The Lightning offer high school and youth camps and coaching academies, and the team recently started a sled hockey program.

Wickett said the Lightning are following the Wesley Chapel “ice race” closely, but the team isn’t going to pick one project over the other.

“Both of these gentlemen know what they’re doing, and they’re both very passionate,” Wickett said. “If it’s a race, it looks like Gordie’s in the lead.”

And if he can’t pull it off, DeLorenzo will be waiting in the wings.

lkinsler@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1852

Twitter @LKinslerTBO

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