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People don't usually associate Orange County with ice, but that may soon change.
The Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 16 hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for their more-than-$100 million community ice complex and practice facility at the Orange County Great Park. The complex will be the largest of its kind in California, Irvine and Ducks officials said.
"From the moment it's open, this is going to be an icon," Irvine Mayor Don Wagner said.
Scheduled to open in July 2018, the Great Park Ice & Sports Complex will feature four ice sheets, including one that could seat up to 2,500 spectators. The 280,000-square-foot complex will offer a variety of ice sports, including youth and adult hockey programs, tournaments, figure skating, curling, broomball, sled hockey and public open skating. It will be used as a practice facility for the Anaheim Ducks.
Local coaches and players are hoping the project will help alleviate the shortage of ice sports facilities. While the popularity of ice hockey has grown over the past 25 years in Orange County and the area has become a destination for top figure skaters, infrastructure hasn't kept pace.
The county hasn't had a new ice facility in nearly 20 years, said Art Trottier, vice president of the Anaheim Ducks Rinks, which operates four ice facilities in Southern California. The Rinks Learn to Play programs, which offer first-time hockey players the chance to get on the rink in full equipment for free, has a six-month waiting list.
"What's limiting the participation in all of those (youth) programs that we have is availability of ice time," Ducks owner Henry Samueli said. "All of our leagues are jammed from morning to night. ... We can't grow any of these programs any further without additional ice capacity."
The four Rinks ice facilities are in north Orange County.
"Some of the South County kids are going to Yorba Linda to skate," said Samueli's wife, Susan. "That's a lot of stress on the family and the kids. I think the time has come."
Negotiations over a Great Park community ice complex - previously proposed to have three sheets of ice - started in 2011, but stalled because of a lack of infrastructure and roads at the Great Park.
In February 2016, the city struck a lease agreement with the Irvine Ice Foundation, the nonprofit set up to oversee the rink's construction and management and backed by the Samuelis. The lease lasts 25 years from the completion of construction, with up to five five-year extension periods.
Rent is $1 per year until the construction is completed and up to $250,000 a year, depending on the profit, after the complex opens. The city will receive all the facilities at the end of the lease for $10.
The city will pay for utility connections to the site and for the construction of roads that will provide access to the rink. The city also has to provide off-site overflow parking for up to 10 major events annually.
No taxpayer money will be used for construction, Ducks officials said.
The 13.5-acre property is at the western part of the Great Park near the Great Park Balloon Ride and Irvine Co.'s Cypress Village community that's being developed.
Tom Betti, an architect of the Great Park ice complex, said the project takes advantage of the warm and sunny Southern California climate by using more glass on the buildings and offering a large outdoor space, where players can warm up and guests can enjoy picnics and other activities.
"Today's good," Wagner told the crowd. "Today's the ice-breaking, today's the groundbreaking, but really make sure you come back when we cut the ribbon on this absolutely fantastic facility in 2018."