Preds Ice Center Bellevue rising generates excitement across Middle Tennessee
By BEN MATTHEWS
Bellevue residents now have their first glimpse of what the Preds Ice Center in One Bellevue Place will look like once completed.
Ford Ice Center general manager Danny Butler presented renderings of the completed Preds Ice Center during a report at the Metro Sports Authority’s meeting earlier this month, and the renderings have since been published online.
“It really will be a cool design that we’re really excited about,” Butler said. “Since the day we’ve opened [Ford Ice Center], we’ve been thinking about things to make this next one better.”
The ice center’s design will flow similarly to the Ford Ice Center — which opened in Antioch in 2014 — except for a few improvements and added features.
One of the center’s two sheets of ice will hold seating for 1,000 people, allowing the Bellevue location to host larger USA Hockey and U.S. Figure Skating events, according to Butler.
While the Ford Ice Center stands separate from its neighboring community center, the Bellevue ice and community centers will be connected. Other additions in the Bellevue design include a restaurant on the second floor, a dry-land training facility and a Predators Alumni lounge for former players who now reside in Middle Tennessee to store gear or host alumni events.
Most other features in the Bellevue location will remain similar to the Ford Ice Center design, such as the locker room layouts and equipment rental counter design.
Ground was broken June 29, 2018, to begin building the 120,000-square-foot Bellevue skating center. The project is on course for completion in the fall of this year with walls going up in the coming weeks, pre-engineered steel going up in February, and concrete to be poured by the summer.
Once completed, the Preds Ice Center in Bellevue will become the Predators’ second community skating facility in the Greater
According to Butler, the Predators’ desire to provide skating facilities to Greater Nashville was driven less by financial purposes, and instead by the area’s need for ice. The hockey leagues at Ford Ice Center have been at capacity in both youth and adult leagues for the past year.
“It’s not that we necessarily wanted to run rinks — it’s [that] there was a lack of [them],” Butler said. “We knew we needed to step in or youth hockey was never going to grow here. And we needed youth hockey to grow here, it’s important to us.”
The Preds Ice Center in Bellevue hopes to assist in fulfilling the area’s demand for hockey programs, but Butler believes their program’s soon-to-be increased capacity will once again hit its cap.
When comparing the number of rinks within 50 miles of any given NHL team, Butler said the Greater Nashville area the highest concentration of USA Hockey registered players per sheet of ice.
“Per sheet of ice, 750 kids are playing on it — which is a staggering number. That’s 150 more than anywhere else,” Butler said.
Figure skating programs at Ford Ice Center have swelled in attendance as well. According to Scott Hamilton Skating Academy manager Paula Trujillo, only four skaters were enrolled in the first year of the Learn to Skate program. In 2018, more than 1,200 skaters enrolled and the program was ranked ninth in the nation.
All hockey and skating programs currently provided at the Ford Ice Center will soon be offered at the Bellevue location with classes and leagues beginning as soon as the facility opens.
Butler said his administrative staff will grow to 29 full-time staff members with the new Preds Ice Center and the number of youth league coaches will nearly double.
Tournaments and events are quickly filling out the fall calendar with a D1 girls hockey tournament and the Predators 2019 Rookie Tournament already scheduled.
But it’s more than just young skaters filling up the sheets at local ice centers. Many older players enjoy ice reservations for casual play, like the group of two dozen senior skaters who meet for a weekly Wednesday ice reservation at Ford Ice Center.
Spring Hill resident Dean Presley organizes the group consisting of players age 60 and up, some of whom drive more than an hour to play at Ford Ice Center. Presley spoke highly of the facility’s cleanliness and maintenance while eating lunch in the concessions area with his teammates after a game.
“It may be because the Predators have their name on it, but they want to make sure that [Ford Ice Center] was perfect — and I think they’re doing a great job. I’m sure the Bellevue one will be the same or better,” Presley said.
The facility’s cleanliness and maintenance quality can be largely attributed to Ford Ice Center operations manager Manuel Medina, who could be found aboard a Zamboni at the conclusion Presley’s senior league, preparing the ice for the next reservation.
Medina, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and Kansas City native, has been on the maintenance crew at Ford Ice Center since 2014 and became a youth league coach shortly after joining the staff. Medina said his maintenance crew is always busy tending to the facility’s general maintenance needs and hourly Zamboni operation for ice resurfacing 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“It’s kind of like the Air Force — it’s a mission. You’ve just got to do it, but I love it,” he said.
While long shifts are regular for Medina, he said his passion for hockey and seeing young players develop their skills makes it all enjoyable.
“The people who work here really do care about the facility and care about the customers, because we’re all really passionate about the sport of hockey,” Medina said. “We’re so busy, Bellevue’s going to hopefully alleviate that demand a little bit. But there’s always more demand for ice.”
For the Predators’ organization, the vision of delivering rinks to the Greater Nashville area doesn’t stop after Bellevue, and Butler encouraged members of the public to vocalize any desire for a rink in their area.
“As long as your city is on board, we’re in,” Butler said. “So call your mayor, call your councilperson, call whoever. We’re in.”