WESLEY CHAPEL — Born in Canada and named for “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Zimmermann has spent much of his life on the ice. Now he won’t have to drive as far.
The Pasco County developer on Thursday unveiled the design for Florida’s largest ice skating facility and in a power-play move, announced plans for a 120-room hotel adjacent to the massive rink.
Flanked by youth hockey players and his Hamilton, Ontario high school classmate, Tampa Bay Lightning legend Dave Andreychuk, Zimmermann said the $20 million Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex could open as early as fall 2015.
“We’re already getting calls from people wanting to book tournaments,” said Zimmermann, who was named for hockey great Gordie Howe. “They want the ice this fall.”
At 150,500 square feet, the complex would have four full-sized rinks, including one Olympic-sized hockey rink and two mini-rinks. The building would have one multipurpose pad, so it could be used for indoor sports like tennis, basketball, lacrosse or events like dog shows, job seminars, conventions or even high school graduations.
But make no mistake, Zimmermann said the main purpose of the facility is ice.
“The figure skating community is going to love this facility,” Zimmermann said. “With the international rink, we can do Olympic training for hockey. We’ll be able to do whatever we like there. We might even get some NHL teams practicing there.”
The building will feature multiple locker room facilities, and it will have a second-floor restaurant, and nearly 500 permanent seats. “It will be perfect for USF games,” Zimmermann said. The university’s team already has expressed an interest in making Cypress Creek its home ice, he said.
Zimmermann and his business partners, George and Tarra Mitchell, closed Thursday morning on the 13-acre site at the Interstate 75/State Road 56 interchange for $2.6 million. They have a contract on the adjoining 3-acre site for the five-story hotel project.
“Kudos to Gordie,” Pasco Tourism Director Ed Caum said. “We’re certainly open to public-private partnerships, but they’re doing this with all private capital. It’s going to be a national draw, and when you think about the fact that Tampa is hosting the NCAA Frozen Four again in 2017, all those college teams are going to want to come here.”
Zimmermann discounted critics who said four pads is “too much ice” for the Tampa Bay market.
“We’ve done our homework,” he said. “I come from an area that has 200 rinks, and nobody would build anything smaller than a fourplex.”
Zimmermann said he picked the Wesley Chapel site, which is visible from the interstate, specifically so it wouldn’t compete with Brandon’s Ice Sports Forum - which he helped develop - and other local rinks.
“This is what it’s about,” he said, gesturing to members of his Wiregrass Ranch High School hockey team. “It’s about the kids. I think when I was operating down at the Brandon facility, I played adult hockey. But I noticed the the adult hockey program had taken over, and the kids had limited ice time, and were being pushed to drive 60 and 70 miles for practice, which we do.”
Zimmermann, who lives in Seven Oaks, tried unsuccessfully to buy land in south Tampa and near Tampa International Airport for a hockey venue, but it turned out the right location was practically in his back yard. “I thought about this area, and thought about the whole demographic of Pasco County, and it just is a wonderful place,” he said. “We live right here, and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for the community.”
Deb Tamargo, Zimmermann’s real estate agent, quipped that now “he’ll be able to walk to work.”
Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said the facility will provide recreational ice for local skaters and will attract competitors from all over the world.
“Two rinks would have been great. Three rinks would have been phenomenal,” he said. “But with four rinks and everything else you’re putting in here — everybody in the world is going to want to come here to play.”