Downtown arena plans won’t include ice

August 19th, 2016

By Bob Caylor | News - Sentinel 

Plans being developed for a downtown arena won’t include any provision for ice – but that could conceivably change if architects find enough interest in having that option.

During a meeting of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board on Thursday, board member Steve Brody said that ice won’t be a part of those plans. Brody is one of the board members working with architects on plans and cost estimates for a proposed downtown arena.

Brody and board Chair Nancy Jordan provided several reasons why the capability to set up a rink would not be planned into the proposed stadium.

Most important: The Komets might be cramped there. Brody said the general plan for a downtown arena calls for 5,000-6,000 seats. The Komets generally average attendance of more than 7,000, and sometimes their crowds exceed 10,000.

Another constraint: The downtown site, west of Grand Wayne Center, being considered for an arena is compact, Brody noted. Bart Shaw, executive director of the Grand Wayne Center, said that being equipped for ice would require room for a chiller and room for a Zamboni, for example. Also, an event floor that can be turned into a rink can’t be wired for other events from beneath the floor, as the Grand Wayne can, Shaw said.

Jordan pointed out that there’s ice in several other venues, including Headwaters Park, the Coliseum and Canlan Ice. Another regional hockey venue – an arena at Trine University – is coming soon, too, she said.

Board members Tim Pape and Ben Eisbart said they’re sorry to see ice being swept off the menu of possibilities so soon. Eisbart suggested that architects might do two designs – one with ice, one without – to compare the cost and utility of two versions.

Pape said that bringing Komets hockey downtown would bring hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly, and it’s an option that ought to be thoroughly investigated. Instead, he said, the leaders envisioning a downtown arena are deferring to the Memorial Coliseum as the Komets’ home without considering other possibilities.

Board members who support taking ice out of the mix for arena plans did concede that if interest is strong enough, architects could change course and work out plans for a hockey-compatible arena.

The latest cost estimate for a new arena is $85 million, based on the investigation of a local task force. Now Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects of Denver is the lead firm working up plans and cost estimates for a proposed arena.

Those plans and estimates are expected in December.