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Incredible Ice South Florida Business Journal Article

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IncredibleICE rink is hot for cool business

Incredible Ice

Todd Nezwek of Bluewater Builders, W. Douglas Snyder of Falkanger Snyder Martineau & Yates Architects, and Jeff Campol of IncredibleICE (above), inspect boards that will be used to line the new ice rink.

Jeff Zbar

It’s a warm June morning as Jeff Campol walks a construction site that in less than a month will chill with South Florida’s newest ice rink.

Workmen are painting walls and wiring lights. Another scrapes out the groove in the concrete floor where new boards and glass will be placed to encircle the ice surface. Workers outside are planting palms and tweaking the refrigeration unit that soon will freeze water in the 200-by-85-foot rink.

By fall, IncredibleICE in Coral Springs will be the Florida Panther’s new training facility and administrative offices.

“It will help recruit and hold players, attract free agents, and grow the sport at the grassroots level,” said Campol, VP and general manager with IncredibleICE and the Panthers.

The story of IncredibleICE is the tale of a pretty smart hunch. With a market needs analysis in hand, Campol in 1996 built the original twin-ice facility on seven acres of land in western Coral Springs. In 1997, the Toronto native sold the complex to H. Wayne Huizenga and his Florida Panthers.

Thirteen years later, IncredibleICE hosts 600,000 visitors a year. It serves several ice sports, from youth, high school, adult and FAU ice hockey, to figure skating, and packed community open-skate nights. Campol even has received more than 100 calls from people interested in curling, a shuffleboard-like Olympic sport whose field of play has been newly painted on one of the two existing rinks.

“It’s only idle four hours overnight,” said Mike Levinson, Coral Springs’ long-time city manager who negotiated the original land-use deal with Campol. “We had the vacant land, and Jeff came to us, engineered a program, and designed an agreement. We liked the idea, but running an ice skating facility and training center is not one of our core competencies.”

The expansion almost didn’t come to Coral Springs. For several years, the Panthers were in discussions with the city of Weston to build a new ice rink there. When the city decided not to support the project, attention turned back to Coral Springs.

Part of the sportsplex

The new $10 million, 50,000-square-foot expansion is wedged tight on an additional four acres of city land that’s part of “Sportsplex,” the city-owned, 180-acre regional park. The Panthers have a 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art training facility and administrative offices – operations formerly at the BankAtlantic Center.

Campol traveled to Toronto, Dallas, San Jose and a host of hockey towns to see other National Hockey League franchise training facilities. He came away with ideas for equipment management and a high-definition video training room. The weight training room is awash in natural light. The team’s locker room itself is a little smaller, with lower ceilings.

“That keeps it close and more quaint,” hesaid. The players also will have a private lounge, with a pool table and full kitchen.

Some 105 seats ring the rink, and another 100 offer climate-controlled fan viewing. To conserve resources, the new rink features fluorescent lighting and an electric Zamboni, or ice-cleaning vehicle.

Some attributes, though, are uniquely South Florida. Canadian refrigeration manufacturer Cimco worked with contractors and architects to master the sub-tropics’ heat, humidity and natural elements. The 15-inch-thick exterior walls have almost four times the insulation factor of normal walls, said Doug Snyder, executive vice president with Falkanger Snyder Martineau & Yates Architects Inc., in Fort Lauderdale. The roof also exceeds insulation standards, while being designed to withstand the same winds that tore the roof off IncredibleICE during Hurricane Wilma, he said. Then there’s the water table.

“We can’t have water infiltration into the rink,” he said. “It’s a totally different animal. Up north, you have the exact opposite thermal conditions than you do down here.”

The city hopes to maximize its take with the expansion. They lease the land to the Panthers, who then turn over a percentage of gross receipts to the city. Now in the second year of a new 49-year concession agreement, the city’s take is now 5 percent and can be as high as $150,000 per year through 2011, said Tom Messenheimer, executive director of the Sportsplex. It then will rise by $25,000 increments every three years through 2017. In 2018, it will rise to 5.5 percent of gross receipts, to a maximum of $315,000 for the next five years, maxing out at $330,000 for the remainder of the agreement, Levinson said.

Since the October 2008 groundbreaking, an unusually dry winter left general contractor Bluewater Builders Inc. in Coral Springs with a fast-track construction schedule. When the ice opens on July 13, they’ll be on-time – and $200,000 under budget, said president Todd Nezwek.

“They told us we weren’t the low bidder on the job, but we were the most complete,” said Nezwek, a hockey dad and coach whose sons play at IncredibleICE. “We had a level of comfort, understanding the challenges and magnitude of the project. We knew what they wanted out of the job.”

What the Florida Panthers want out of the complex is a new nexus for ice sports and marketing opportunities. Once it’s fully operational, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment will launch a rebranding and marketing campaign for the center and organization to sell more people on hockey, said Michael Yormark, president/COO of Panthers parent, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment. “This facility will help expand our organization’s overall outreach to the community at-large.”

“It’s another tool in the arsenal of hockey operations to grow the business and create a facility that’s among only two or three such complexes in the NHL,” Campol added. “We just became more incredible.”

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