More Than Just an Ice Rink, Ford Ice Center Set to Open in August
A mere nine months since first breaking ground, the vision of the Ford Ice Center is now coming into focus. Looking around the busy construction site, one can distinguish the ice surfaces and locker rooms that will soon be occupied by skaters from throughout the Southeast.
Set to open in mid-August, it’s not long before the final touches will be made to complete another huge step in the Predators’ initiative to expand the game of hockey in Middle Tennessee. At the moment, the roof is nearly complete, along with the concession stands, lounges and second floor meeting rooms that will overlook the two rinks. Construction is currently being done on the detailing of each room with the final step of putting down the ice set to begin in July.
While workers are busy building the two-rink facility, Ford Ice Center General Manager Danny Butler is quickly assembling a staff of full-time employees to run its various operations. Previously a member of the event management staff at Bridgestone Arena, Butler began his new role in January and is now permanently operating out of Antioch.
“Right now I’m kind of wearing two hats,” Butler said. “I’m close to finished in terms of the hiring process. We’ve got the pieces in place and now it’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page as we get close to the grand opening.”
Aside from the hiring process Butler is also responsible for overseeing the construction process.
“I’m spending a lot of time on the construction site just making sure everything’s exactly how we want it,” Butler said. “It was a rough winter, but it didn’t put us behind. Everything is on schedule and shaping up to our expectations.”
During the design process, Butler and the Predators management made trips to facilities across the United States in an effort to seek out unique ways to develop the Ford Ice Center’s functionality.
“With a 2000 square foot pro-shop, a ballet and yoga studio, off-ice conditioning rooms and a restaurant-style concession stand, it’s unlike your typical rink,” said Butler. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at rinks all over the country and we’ve picked and pulled from the best ones. We tried to include everything you would want.”
Although the Ford Ice Center isn’t scheduled to be open to the public until August, the anticipation is high among the hockey community.
“We’ve dedicated a significant amount of time to our youth programs but we’ll also be hosting Vanderbilt club hockey, the Junior Preds, and a lot of the GNASH (Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey League) games,” Butler said.
In September, the Ford Ice Center will host the Predators prospects camp, and the camp concluding tournament featuring the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. In addition, the Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, will hold their training camp in Antioch this September.
“Our entire September schedule is pretty much booked, so we’re cranking right out of the gate,” said Butler. “It’s going to be nice to get the professional teams in here to really boost the awareness of what we have to offer.”
Presently, A-Game Sports in Franklin and Centennial Sportsplex in mid-town are the only two ice-rinks in the Greater Nashville area. With southeast Davidson County absent of any rinks, Butler believes this is an excellent opportunity to increase enrollment in minor hockey in the area.
“With only four sheets of ice in the Nashville area right now ice-time is so limited,” said Butler. “The Antioch area in particular is so underserved. The convenience of having a rink right in their backyard will help tremendously.”
Butler’s first hire came back in January when he brought Craig MacDonald on as Hockey Director who will be playing a major role in minor hockey enrollment. In his three years as Hockey Director with the Evansville, Indiana, Youth Hockey League he saw enrollment increase by more than 30 percent.
“Craig brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for the sport of hockey,” Butler said. “His history in cultivating success stories at all age levels of the sport speaks for itself, both through bringing people to the game, and pushing them to reach their potential.”
The Ford Ice Center will also be home to the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy. Hamilton, a longtime Franklin, Tennessee, resident and Olympic Gold Medalist, will serve as the active principal at the Academy, helping with curriculum development, staffing and more.
On top of giving area minor hockey and skating programs a boost, Butler and the Predators also foresee a boost in the local economy.
The Ford Ice Center will be built next to a library, a community center and a five-acre park, all located within a mile of Interstate 24, and hopes to become an integral part of the community.
“Concession stands will have an outside window that can service the park,” Butler said. “It’s going to be more than just nachos and pizza. We’re buying a nice barbeque smoker. We want it to be a place where people who work around here come over for lunch, watch some TV and relax.”
As completion nears, Butler says he is excited about seeing their vision come to life.
“Having the backing of the Predators allowed us to do what most rinks can’t do,” said Butler. “We we’re given the ability to do something special and it’s our job to make that happen. Once it’s open to the public and people can start using the facilities, it’s going to be special.”
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