There are many businesses that excite, fill a need in and make an impact on a community. Very few, however, could be called “transformational.”
In 2017, Florida Hospital Center Ice was truly transformational.
“I think that’s the right word,’’ said Hope Allen, the CEO of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. “It has made such an important impact on our community. It has really changed the landscape.”
After officially opening on January 25, FHCI’s impact was felt immediately. The first night attracted 300 skaters, the weekend drew more than 600, and nearly 400 signed up for Learn To Skate classes.
That was just the beginning. From hockey tournaments and leagues to figure skating to corporate outings, the $28-million, 150,500-sq.-ft. FHCI made nearly every weekend in 2017 a big one.
By the end of the year, roughly a million visitors had passed through the doors of FHCI, located just northeast of the S.R. 56 and I-75 interchange.
“Definitely the demographics are good, the population is ripe for what we do,” says Gordie Zimmerman, managing partner of FHCI developer ZMitch, LLC. “The community is just totally excited about the facility. We have been blown away by the response and turnout. It’s been great.”
FHCI is the largest ice skating and hockey facility south of New York. Zimmerman estimates that more than 1,500 local kids have enrolled in various hockey and ice skating programs at FHCI, including a youth travel hockey program that was expected to start with four or five teams, but instead has nine.
There is curling on Saturday nights, and FHCI’s adult hockey league has 46 teams, and grows every 12 weeks when the next new season begins. In July, a roller hockey tournament attracted 120 teams, and is already scheduled for a return. There have been figure skating competitions and exhibitions as well, and FHCI hosted the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida (SAHOF) high school championships, where Wiregrass Ranch High, coached by Zimmerman, finished as the runner-up.
But FHCI, which is expected to deliver an economic impact of roughly $20 million a year, is more than just an ice rink, “which is kind of our slogan,” Zimmerman says.
To that end, it hosted events like the Taste of New Tampa & Wesley Chapel (which returns March 25), “American Idol” auditions and dozens and dozens of corporate events and things like holiday parties in 2017.
“It has become a facility for many in terms of sports and corporate, and the two blend very nicely together,’’ Zimmerman says, adding that 71 corporate outings and meetings are already on the books for 2018.
Zimmerman says that to pick his 2017 highlight is a difficult task.
“There have been a bunch of them,” he says. “Every weekend, there was something happening.”
But, while FHCI has already scored a number of coups leading to national exposure, the biggest “get” for the new facility was landing the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team.
Since September, the team has trained at FHCI in preparation for the 2018 Winter Games next month in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. Wesley Chapel is mentioned prominently in practically every article written about the team, and their presence has helped ignite an interest in developing women’s hockey in Florida.
The U.S. beat Canada 4-1 at FHCI in a Four Nations Cup exhibition in November, and tickets sold out.