By: Mike Mendenhall
Jacksonville Icemen parent company SZH Hockey LLC plans to buy and renovate the Jacksonville Ice & Sportsplex for $18 million, team President Bob Ohrablo said Feb. 8.
Plans include installing a second ice rink, a sports-themed restaurant and facilities to support youth hockey programs at the 3605 Philips Highway facility.
Investors include former NFL and University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack. The athletes joined the Icemen ownership group last year.
SZH Hockey requests a $6.5 million, 20-year construction loan and $1 million completion grant from the city for the deal, according to city Office of Economic Development Executive Director Kirk Wendland.
SZH Hockey is led by Jacksonville resident Andrew Kaufmann, who bought the Icemen organization in July 2019 from El Acquisitions.
The Mayor’s Budget Review Committee voted 7-0 on Feb. 8 to advance the proposal to City Council for final approval.
“They (Icemen) have gotten to a place where the existing ice facility where they practice is up for sale. They’re prepared to buy it, they’re prepared to invest millions of dollars upgrading it but they need some help with the delta,” said city Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes.
“It’s in an area of the community that needs some economic development and the participation of the city is less than one-third,” Hughes said.
The Sportsplex is part of San Marco East Plaza, which is west of Interstate 95 at Emerson Street.
Ohrablo said the Icemen, an ECHL affiliate of the NHL Winnipeg Jets, has been pursuing the deal for nearly two years.
The team uses the Sportsplex as a secondary practice facility when its home rink at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena is in use.
Ohrablo said buying and renovating the 103,570-square-foot Sportsplex will give the Icemen a permanent practice rink and corporate headquarters.
According to Ohrablo, SZH Hockey is negotiating with Sportsplex property owner Dallas-based Prescott Group and leaseholder Marc Scheff to acquire the facility and business for $6.1 million. The Prescott Group bought San Marco East Plaza, then called Metro Square, in 2019.
Ohrablo expects the deal to close in mid-March.
The Icemen have contracted Hollywood-based The Campol Consulting Group LLC to help develop the facility. The firm helped plan the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, according to Ohrablo.
SZH Hockey does not have a conceptual design but Ohrablo said the facility could resemble an igloo, playing off the Icemen team logo.
“We have the brand, why not use it,” he said.
Wendland said during the Feb. 8 committee meeting that the Icemen group plans to invest $11.9 million in facility renovations, including new seating, concessions, a team training complex, restaurant, retail and office space.
“The goal is to keep one sheet of ice open at all times. They’d (install) the new sheet of ice first before they close the other one — try to minimize the interruption to those who are doing figure skating, etc., there now,” Wendland said.
The 3% city loan will be paid out as reimbursement for construction costs, according to Wendland.
The Icemen will not receive the $1 million completion grant if the total project investment falls below $18 million. The deal also will have an immediate loan clawback if the team does not invest at least $12.6 million.
Hughes said the Icemen pushed the city during negotiations to ensure the loan will not have an early payoff penalty.
Before SZH Hockey can draw from the taxpayer-backed loan, the deal will have to be approved by Council.
Legislation authorizing the $7.5 million incentive package and economic development agreement will likely be filed by Feb. 17, according to Hughes.
The involvement of Tebow and Jack was noted in the Feb. 8 meeting by Hughes before the budget review committee vote.
“It’s clear both of them have a strong interest in developing and helping to lend their name(s) to youth hockey and getting hockey more exposure in Jacksonville that’s already doing quite well as a very low-cost family entertainment option,” Hughes said.
Boosting youth hockey
The Icemen and city officials say they hope the renovated Sportsplex will be a draw for regional hockey tournaments that Ohrablo said typically target rinks in Tampa and South Florida.
“Jacksonville is well behind every other major city in the Southeast when it comes to the amount of available ice,” Wendland said. “A lot of times these tournaments are going a little further south and going right by Jacksonville. So, this will give us some additional opportunities there.”
Ohrablo said he hopes it will help “fill some hotel rooms” and increase the ability of the Icemen to recruit players.
“But more importantly it will develop youth hockey in the area,” he said.
The renovated facility will host the Icemen Futures Program, which offers skating and hockey clinics to Northeast Florida children ages 5-14.
A program summary provided to city economic development officials outlines the Icemen plan to work with organizations like the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; Kids Hope Alliance; and Duval County Public Schools to provide a no-cost, three-year track for youth interested in learning the sport.
Participants that move into the program’s second year will be provided equipment, lessons and skating opportunities through the NHL Learn to Play Program.
The summary states Icemen Futures would model after similar programs by The Ed Snider Hockey Foundation in Philadelphia and Hockey in Harlem in New York City.
Ohrablo said the second rink will allow the Sportsplex to remain open to the public. He said the Icemen plan to host open skates, themed skate nights and events for school groups.
“We want everyone in Jacksonville to learn how to skate,” he said.