Sports Authority OKs plan for Hickory Hollow ice rink

Metro, Preds will share $14M cost

Sometimes, a rescheduled meeting can prove to be serendipitous.

Sunday's National Hockey League Entry Draft in Newark, N.J. gave Nashville Predators CEO Jeff Cogen an easy talking point at Monday's meeting of the Metro Sports Authority — a gathering that had originally been scheduled for mid-June — at which the major topic was the new $14 million, two-rink ice facility co-located with a new southeast Nashville community center and library at Hickory Hollow Mall.

"I was in Dallas for 15 years. In 1993, we had the same vision," Cogen said. "There were two rinks in Dallas. We started building, with public-private partnerships, four to six rinks over time. Yesterday, we drafted a guy named Seth Jones. His father [Popeye Jones] was playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Seth learned to skate and to play and now he's going to get a big check from us in a couple of weeks."

Cogen and Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling on Monday morning laid out the plan to pay for the 20-year note. The Predators, who will operate and handle regular maintenance at the 86,000-square-foot project, will pay Metro annual rent between $350,000 and $450,000 over the life of the note. Savings realized through a refinancing of a handful of bonds at LP Field will pay for another portion and Metro will increase its annual subsidy to the Sports Authority itself by between $250,000 and $400,000 annually. In addition, any revenues generated at the facility will be shared between the Predators and Metro.

While the rink addresses a supply problem — currently there are only two ice facilities in Middle Tennessee (at Centennial Sportsplex and at A-Game in Franklin) and adult leagues regularly start games after 11 p.m. — it also acts as a "fan factory," Cogen said.

"Baseball has it right. When I was five I started playing baseball. I had a bat in my hand, I'd watch on TV and I bugged my parents to go to a game," Cogen said. "In high school, I took a date to a game. I went to college and bought a mini plan. I became an executive and bought season tickets."

Cogen said the Predators will offer scholarships, free learn-to-skate programs and will partner with Metro Schools on educational, vocational and athletic programs at the facility, while the pros themselves will still make Sportsplex their regular practice facility. He said more ice will lead to more opportunities for youth tournaments, which in turn generate business for hotels and restaurants in southeast Nashville.

The sports authority approved the necessary legislation, some of which — including a small land swap with the mall's owners — must also be approved by the Metro Council.