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Battle of ice rink rivals heating up in Pasco

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WESLEY CHAPEL — When Gordie Zimmermann announced plans last month for a massive ice skating complex on Interstate 75, it seemed to put an end to speculation about where Pasco’s first ice rink would be built.

But rival Pat DeLorenzo said he hasn’t given up his dream of building a hockey arena one exit north, on County Road 54 near The Grove shopping center. “We’re going forward,” DeLorenzo said.

The part-time NHL official had been working for years to bring a hockey facility to Wesley Chapel. He had a contract to buy 13 acres in front of the Lexington Oaks neighborhood for a 2-pad rink and community center when Zimmermann went public with his plan to build Florida’s largest skating facility at Cypress Creek.

Zimmermann and his partners at Zmitch already purchased their 13-acre parcel on the northeast corner of the I-75/State Road 56 interchange, and have an approved site plan for the 150,500-square-foot complex. They plan to break ground in August and open the $20 million complex in fall 2015. With three NHL-size rinks and one Olympic-size rink, it would be the largest skating facility in Florida.

DeLorenzo said he’s shifted the focus of his project away from hockey and more toward the banquet and concert business. “I’m doing a lot of work to try to keep away from what they’re doing,” he said.

His concept calls for two ice rinks plus a 12,000-square-foot banquet space and a catering kitchen, so it could host weddings, community events and meetings. One rink would have stadium seating, like a smaller version of The Forum, for up to 3,000 spectators.

But even he admits it will be difficult to convince investors to pony up millions of dollars for an ice rink when a competitor is building one less than five miles away. “I’m putting all my pro forma and packages together, and that’s going to be the answer. I’ve got to sell it,” he said. “July is going to be a do or die month.”

DeLorenzo believes Zimmermann’s business plan is flawed — that he’s building too much ice. “They will not be financially successful,” he said. “I think anyone in the business today will agree with me that a 4-plex is not a financially sound decision.”

Zimmermann counters that DeLorenzo’s site can’t accommodate 3,000 concert-goers. “The parking requirements for a facility like that would outweigh the site,” he said. “Not to mention the type of impact fees you’d have to pay.”

DeLorenzo has another strike working against him: news that Pasco-Hernando State College was just awarded $10 million in seed money in the state budget for a 4,000-seat performing arts center in Wesley Chapel.

Dev Pathik, Pasco County’s new sports facility consultant, said as long as the Cypress Creek complex moves forward, it’s unlikely the second facility would get financing.

“It’s more inventory than a market that size would typically be able to support,” he said. “To perform successfully, they would have to outperform every ice complex we’ve ever seen.”

Pathik, founder of The Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater, disagrees with DeLorenzo’s assessment of the 4-pad facility, noting that it would have higher energy costs but also a higher profit margin. Building four sheets of ice gives the complex the flexibility to accommodate skating lessons, figure skating, clubs and league play as well as tournament play. “The local use would only be enough to fill two sheets,” he said.

Zimmermann said the response from the local business community has been overwhelmingly positive. He’s already in discussions for corporate sponsorships and is starting to book tournaments. He even met with Gov. Rick Scott.

“He’s very excited about the project,” he said. “He wants to come to the groundbreaking.”

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