By CHARLES A. BAKER III | Staff Writer
POLK COUNTY – In a few weeks the ice will be frozen at Lakeland Ice Arena.
Lakeland Ice Arena President Paul Granville spoke at the Sanders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate I4 Commercial Corridor Conference June 28 at Florida Polytechnic University.
“There are 26 ice rinks in Chicago and 25 in the entire state of Florida,” Granville said. “Access to ice is incredibly limited here but the sport is growing fast.”
Granville said there are ice facilities in Tampa and Orlando, but none in between. In Lakeland he found an old 44-lane bowling alley with dimensions suited to build a rink.
Lakeland Ice Arena will be open August 1 and will include a free outdoor street ball hockey pavilion.
Tampa Bay Lightning staff will use the facility to spearhead an effort to add hockey as a high school sport. There will also be sponsored leagues for ages 8-18, Lakeland Royals travel teams and possibly a Florida Southern College team.
Granville said he is donating ice time to host Friday night high school hockey events. Lightning staff already administer high school hockey in Tampa.
The private investment could lead to an estimated 15,000 visitors to Polk County annually. Granville said he would be hosting 18-24 tournaments per year involving more than 60 teams, 800 players and player supporters, each of whom could stay at area hotels and eat in local restaurants.
Lakeland Ice Arena is already booked solid from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days per week, for months.
Other events at the area will include figure skating and ice shows.
“It’s not just hockey,” Granville said. “There will also be public skating a few times per week for date nights.”
Cost is $10 admission plus skate rental fees. Check out lakelandicearena.com for more information.