When the Nashville Predators teamed up with the Metro Nashville government to open Ford Ice Center in September of 2014, there was a vision.
The hope was the facility would not only revitalize the Antioch, Tennessee, community, but also grow the game of ice hockey to numbers never seen before in Middle Tennessee. Over two years have passed since the ribbon was cut and the first skate blade hit the ice, and those visions have become reality - and then some.
Now, it's time to do it again.
The Predators and Metro are heading to western Davidson County, this time to the town of Bellevue, to open a brand new ice center and add two more sheets of ice to the city of Nashville.
The facility, located at One Bellevue Place on Highway 70, will be similar to Ford Ice Center in Antioch in that it will be managed by the Predators, complete with the same hockey and skating programs patrons have become accustomed to enjoying in the southeastern part of the county.
"This is going to create an even stronger foundation for the Predators organization and make Nashville a stronger hockey community moving forward," Predators Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales, Premium Sales & Youth Hockey Nat Harden said. "There is no lack of interest in this market for wanting to learn to play or wanting to participate in hockey."
The participation at Ford Ice backs up those claims - completely full youth and adult hockey leagues, as well as the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy, have the building routinely operating from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. in an attempt to satisfy the demand to be on the ice.
The Bellevue facility will not only help to increase that participation in the game, it will also grow the Preds fan base. With the 20th Anniversary season approaching, the Predators are beginning to see the first assemblage of Preds fans pass the game down to the next wave.
"We're one generation in, and those kids who first started playing back in the 90s are now buying tickets and having kids that are playing, and that's where you really start to see the benefit of the work we did 20 years ago," Harden said. "That's the reason why we have this new facility; it's so important to us to continue to grow the number of sheets of ice we have in this community."
Antioch and Bellevue are just the start of that plan, and over the next decade, the Predators are aiming to have a footprint for the game all across the state, ensuring anyone who wants the chance to play hockey or learn to skate will have that chance.
"We have goals of getting to 18 sheets of ice in the state of Tennessee by the year 2026, and this is just a stop in that direction," Harden said. "We have a longer-term vision on what we're trying to do in Tennessee to make hockey much bigger than it is today."
The days of Nashville being considered a "non-traditional hockey market" are all but gone. The Bellevue announcement only helps to strengthen that truth, and with an expected opening in 2018, it won't be long before the next generation of Predators fans are hitting the ice for the first time.