PHOTO: Nashville Predators and Metro government officials break ground for the new Preds Ice Center in Bellevue on Friday, June 29, 2018./ / RUSSELL VANNOZZI
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Help is on its ways to the hockey-crazed Middle Tennessee region, where the area’s four rinks can’t keep up with demand.
In a ceremony held Friday afternoon, Nashville Predators and Metro government officials broke ground for a new ice center at the One Bellevue Place development off Sawyer Brown Road.
The building, which has been dubbed the Preds Ice Center until it secures a title sponsor, will house two ice rinks and a Bellevue community center. It is expected to open in late July or early August of 2019.
Public-private partnership fills a need
Metro will pay at least $28 million to build the facility, while the Predators will operate the rinks and their programming. This is the second time the NHL team has partnered with the city to build an ice complex – the first was Antioch’s Ford Ice Center, which was constructed in 2014.
The new center in Bellevue will fill a growing need for sheets of ice in the Music City, where four rinks – two at Centennial Sportsplex and two at Ford Ice Center – are currently overcapacity.
“Right now, we open at about 5:30 a.m. and close around 1:30 a.m., so we’re only closed for about four hours a day,” Ford Ice Center general manager Danny Butler said. “We’ve already had 1,200 unique registrations go through our learn-to-skate program.”
Butler will also serve as the general manager of the new ice center in Bellevue. However, he said the new rinks won’t provide much relief because the demand for ice time continues to grow.
“We need six more (rinks) – it’s just so busy,” he said. “The day we open the Bellevue rinks we’ll probably be at ninety-five percent capacity. We are turning adult and high school teams away, and there’s hardly any time for teams to practice.”
Excitement builds for new facility
Nonetheless, parents and players alike are happy to have more ice rinks coming to the area. Bellevue resident Jenna Lambert is excited for her eight-year-old son, Ridgeway, to play games close to home.
“The drive to Ford Ice Center is killing us,” Lambert said. “The league he will move up to has games at 6 a.m. on Saturdays, so we’re hoping the (new ice center) is built by then so we don’t have to get up so early.”
Makaio Van Tassel, a Brentwood resident and a forward for the TPH Thunder 12-and-under travel team, said the new rinks will help his parents save on travel time. The Thunder are one of the Southeast’s premier youth hockey teams and were partially based out of Franklin’s A-Game Sportsplex before it abruptly closed in February 2016.
“I’m pretty excited,” Van Tassel said. “We have practices early in the morning and very late at night. I live like 10 minutes away from Bellevue, so it’s going to be nice to not have to travel (as much).”
Are more rinks on the way?
Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry hinted that there will be another groundbreaking next summer for an additional ice hockey complex at a to-be-announced location.
Could Williamson County be on the short list?
“The more rinks we build, no matter where they are, will be good for the kids and adults that play,” Henry said. “We need to build in Williamson County as well. And when I say build, that’s a plural word. This is not ‘how many more can you do?’ It’s ‘let’s just keep building them.’”
News recently broke that A-Game Sportsplex has been sold to new ownership, but its two ice hockey rinks were removed in 2016 and there are no plans to bring them back. That leaves Brentwood and Franklin families traveling to Nashville or Antioch for games and practices, at least for now.
“We’ve been working with Williamson County for a while,” Henry said. “When you have someone as forward-thinking as (county mayor) Rogers Anderson, something is going to happen, and when it does, it’s going to be spectacular.”
Photo: Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry speaks at Friday’s ground breaking ceremony in Bellevue. / RUSSELL VANNOZZI