WESLEY CHAPEL (FOX 13) - It took two years, but the Bay Area finally has its rink of dreams.
The new Florida Hospital Center Ice Complex, with its five rinks, is the largest ice complex south of New York State. It held a grand opening ceremony on Wednesday night.
It boasts 150,000 square feet of ice over three NHL rinks, an Olympic rink, a mini-rink and a batch of training rooms. The hope is to attract national hockey and figure skating competitions, while still keeping the rink open for public skating.
"It allows you to book large tournaments that never would have come to Florida," said developer Gordie Zimmermann.
Indeed, the area's youth league ranks grew by 263 players last year, and Zimmermann points to the Lightning providing equipment to 135,000 Bay-area elementary kids as evidence the area needs more rinks.
Rinks in Brandon, Ellenton and Oldsmar are booked practically all day.
"Once kids get on the ice and play this sport, very rarely do they leave the sport," said Zimmermann.
Wesley Chapel is perfect, he says, because a study he did showed the location at the I-75 exit to route 56 is a 30 mile drive from 1.2 million people, the most in that sized area across the state. And growth isn't slowing, with up to 40,000 homes in the area under construction.
To keep the ice cold in Florida's humidity, he points to state-of-the-art cooling and insulation systems, including more than 100 miles of refrigeration piping.
After its grand opening, the rink hosted a high school hockey game between Steinbrenner and Mitchell. One of the management team's goals is to get the U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey team to do its training there, which is why they have built more than just ice facilities.
There are gymnasiums, ballet studios and sprinting tracks.