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Local Residents Come Together to Make Ford Ice Center Bellevue Reality

Second Predators Ice Center In Metro Nashville Comes as Hockey Popularity at All-Time High in Region

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Bellevue Becoming Hockey Town

Community plays role in Ford Ice Bellevue

Local residents came together to help make Ford Ice Center Bellevue a reality

  • 02:48 •

Long before the Predators went to the Stanley Cup Final, before Nashville hosted the best All-Star Weekend the NHL had ever seen, before Music City became just as comfortable being called a hockey city, the locals already wanted more of the game.

The 1998 expansion team, that went through the early growing pains, started to make the playoffs, and the popularity grew. It wasn't anywhere near back then what it's become, but for many, the allure was getting too strong.

No longer was being in the crowd or watching on television enough - they wanted to get on the ice themselves. There were opportunities in the Nashville area to do so, but those within the Predators front offices at 501 Broadway knew they could do more to grow the game.

They had to do more.

So, they started meeting with the movers and shakers who would soon also become skaters and scorers.

And in June of 2013 - through their public-private partnership with the city of Nashville and the Metro Sports Authority - the Predators announced that two new sheets of ice were in the works.

Only 15 months later, a ribbon was cut at the grand opening of the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, a facility that all parties involved hoped would grow the game of hockey in the region.

Little did they know.

It was right around the time of that announcement in 2013 when Metro Councilwoman Sheri Weiner heard about the plans for the ice rink, and a spark ignited.

"I called my colleague Jacobia Dowell out there and said, 'So, how exactly did you make that happen?'" Weiner recalled of her inquisition. "And she said, 'Here's Sean's cell phone number.'"

Weiner didn't waste much time getting ahold of Predators President and CEO Sean Henry because she had big plans for her community of Bellevue. She knew development would be on the rise in the years to come, and she already had a plan in place, but was looking for something more.

"I thought, if we're going to pop up this part of the city and renovate Bellevue, we need to have a way to do it," Weiner said. "And I thought the best way to do it was to have Bellevue as a destination location so that we would have a reason for people to come out, and I was trying to figure out what that would be."

Question answered.

While Weiner was working her side of the coin for District 22, over in District 35, Council Member Dave Rosenberg had a conversation with a Nashville hockey mom.

Rosenberg's constituents were familiar with the success of Ford Ice Center in Antioch, thanks to their attendance with practices and games for their own children. With ice at a premium throughout the region, and demand at an all-time high, Rosenberg says the residents wondered about the prospect of a facility in Bellevue.

One by one, Rosenberg, a sports parent himself, began to hear from his peers, all of them interested in more ice, wondering if he could assist in their requests.

In talking with hockey families, as well as some large property owners in the area, Rosenberg began to get a gauge for what might be possible. Unbeknownst to him, Weiner had also talked to hockey parents amidst her discussions with Henry.

Once the two sides realized they were working toward the same goal, Rosenberg and Weiner decided to combine forces, all of the families right by their sides.

"They came to us back in early 2016 with an idea that they were scouting ice, and they had actually gone to Dave," Weiner explained. "And Dave called me and we all sat down together and said, 'Wait a minute, I already have this cooking, and you guys want this, let me just bring everybody together.' And so, the two of us worked together to get everybody at the table together, and it worked great."

"Everything just happened to come together, then we had all this momentum from all these families in West Nashville and Brentwood and all around the area looking for a place to do this," Rosenberg said. "Having Bellevue be a great site for it - convenient and up and coming - it really just kind of happened."

Take Interstate 24 east to the Bell Road exit, turn left at the end of the ramp, and you'll probably encounter some traffic.

It could be a two or three-light delay depending on the time of day, but then notice how many of those fellow motorists are turning left again - probably with the Predators logo somewhere on their car - the parking lot of Ford Ice Center Antioch set as their final destination.

It's like that almost daily from 5 O'clock in the morning until 1 O'clock the next morning, and then it's rinse and repeat.

To fully understand this story in Bellevue, it's necessary to traverse back across town.

Jacobia Dowell was there when the announcement was made in the summer of 2013, she was there for the grand opening in September of 2014, and she's still there today, amazed at what a couple of ice rinks have done for her community.

"I've been extremely impressed," the District 32 Council Member said. "Adding Ford Ice Center here has really invigorated this entire space. So, it's something now. It's just amazing - it's more crowded than the mall ever was."

Remember, it was Dowell who received the call from Weiner back when the Bellevue story was starting. Dowell had already helped to form the relationship with the Predators and the city, paving the way for what was to come across town.

"They are the most wonderful partners, I guess one of the most wonderful partners I think this community has ever had," Dowell said of working with the Predators. "Not only did they come in and create Ford Ice Center and build it and run it, but they were also very welcoming to the community."

The area is thriving with Ford Ice Center Antioch becoming one of the busiest ice facilities in North America. Dowell says it's not just the rink that is seeing the patronage, but also local businesses who provide services day and night to guests, who never would have made it to these parts otherwise.

"Six years ago, this space was empty, and with this space being here now, it's crowded 24 hours a day, just about seven days a week," Dowell said. "You see young people coming in, learning the game, and I think it means a lot just to engage the young people. It's a gathering place for families, and also just for the future of recreation and growing this game and keeping it viable in our city."

Many of those families have experienced what it's like to practice or play at Ford Ice Center Antioch. It was only a matter of time before they started asking local leaders for another just like it in their community.  

Finding ways to make the game more accessible throughout Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County is a bit of a no-brainer for those at the forefront.

The sights of tens of thousands of fans filling Broadway and the subsequent hot spots around Bridgestone Arena on those warm spring nights in 2017 have yet to fade in the memory banks, a picture everyone hopes will occur again soon.

For Nashville Mayor David Briley, seeing the Predators as an economic driver is obvious, but it's not his core focus for the professional hockey team in his town. The more-than $50 million generated by the club that went right into the city was nice, but in Briley's eyes, there's something more important put out by this franchise.

"Even though Davidson County has these lines, we all work together, we all play together and the Preds have really been one of the key factors, I think, in knitting together the region more generally, and so it's important in that sense," Briley said from his downtown offices. "We find ourselves divided a lot on political issues these days, but when it comes to the Preds and to the teams locally, it gives us a chance to come together and forget about who we voted for in the last election."

Briley sees it - as does every other Nashvillian - when he's out and about, especially come playoff time. It's virtually impossible to make it down Broadway or through the Gulch, across East Nashville or down 12 South, without spotting the logo.

Flags, decals, hats, jerseys and the like - civic pride with the Predators franchise is palpable, and it's become part of the fabric of the city, part of what makes Nashville what it is today.

"It's important for Nashville to see an opportunity for us to all agree on something," Briley said. "It hasn't always been that way in our country, but right now, I think finding a way for people to forget about some of the discord and come together and root for a team [is very important]. I'm optimistic that the spring and summer will be bringing home that first championship for a professional team to Nashville."

Until then, the metropolitan government will continue to do its part to help grow the game, much like those at the more centralized, local levels have done. The partnership between the city and the Preds has never been stronger, and it only figures to grow with facility No. 2 on the way.

"In Nashville, you see all kinds of growth and development in the core of the city… but everybody needs to know we're also investing in the more suburban parts of the city like Antioch and Bellevue," Briley said. "It's important for the city and people who live here to know the prosperity we're seeing is going to pay benefits in their part of town. I'm pretty sure nobody would've predicted that there would be so much demand for building hockey facilities in Nashville, Tennessee, 20 or 30 years ago, but that has certainly turned out to be the case."

Briley was there in Bellevue, hockey-stick shovel in hand, back in June to help move the first pile of dirt, and he'll certainly be back in September to help cut the ribbon with the oversized pair of scissors.

They're warranted, as Ford Ice Center Bellevue is a big deal for all involved, not just those who went to their local leaders in the first place to help make it happen.

"It's great that we've had such leadership from the councilmembers out in Bellevue," Briley said. "They've really fought hard to make sure that we're spending some city money out there to partner with the Preds and build another facility. The Antioch one has been such a great success, and I think Councilwoman Weiner, especially, is excited about seeing all the young people - and not so young people - who are playing hockey these days having another place to play."

Video: Community plays role in Ford Ice Bellevue

It doesn't seem all that long ago when one ribbon was cut in front of a first-of-its-kind hub in Nashville - a facility run by the Predators, made possible thanks to the relationship with the city of Nashville, Metro Sports Authority, and the hockey-loving residents who call this place home.

Before long, another ribbon will be cut to mark the completion of a second facility bound to enjoy the success of the original.

It really is remarkable what can come to fruition when an idea is born and put into place, when the proper channels are utilized to grow the game under the guidance of the pros - and Bellevue is the perfect spot.

"There's a lot of pride in Bellevue right now," Rosenberg said. "There are a lot of good things going on, and this is a huge part of that. It's thrilling to know that this is coming, and to know that the Predators are going to be even more of a part of our community than they already were is huge."

And as far as Rosenberg is concerned, did the hockey families going to their local leaders help to put everything on the fast track?

"Absolutely," Rosenberg said. "The families being organized and vocal and involved the way that they were was massive. It showed that there was going to be demand for it, it showed their passion and really just injected all new energy into the effort."

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