ELLENTON -- The Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex is adding some cosmetic upgrades to help freshen up its image.
Lockers are being renovated and upgraded, ice technicians are receiving training from the Tampa Bay Lightning and the property owner is trying to land a national chain restaurant to open beside the rink, all as business picks up at the rink, 5309 29th St. E, heading into an Olympic year.
"We've upgraded several of our locker rooms, one of them for the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club with new lockers, paint and a complete renovation," said rink general manager Tom Lindemuth.
The remaining 12 locker rooms will be repainted, receive new flooring and renovated showers, he said. The ongoing renovations will be the first major overhaul since a $700,000 makeover in 2005 when the J.P. Igloo was renamed under new ownership. The 115,000-square-foot building includes two NHL regulation rinks, an indoor soccer field, a gym, massage therapy and a pro shop. The snack bar and lobby are getting some improvements, too, but one of the most visible changes could be outside.
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Manatee County commissioners in January approved a new $1 million digital billboard to replace its aging sign along Interstate 75. Work on the 63-foot high sign is expected to begin in December, Lindemuth said.
"We expect it to be the tallest sign on I-75," he said.
The exterior of the building is seeing fresh coats of Tampa Bay Lightning blue, and one of the more visible pieces of wall art in the area will be changing teams. For years, drivers along I-75 have seen a large hockey player statue breaking through the wall at Ellenton Ice, but dressed in the old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim colors, noth
ing resembling the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That will soon change, Lindemuth said. In exchange for the Lightning staff providing ice technician training to help the ice quality in a humid climate, in the next month they're going to repaint the player to resemble one of the Bolts to help promote the NHL club.
The Lightning have sent alumni to the rink to help with programs, outreach with ice rink maintenance, and sponsor a conference of the Florida High School Hockey Association.
"They've been great with us," Lindemuth said about partnering with the Lightning. "They've done two clinics with us this summer, and most kids that play hockey, that's what your vision is to someday play in the NHL."
Lindemuth isn't really sure why the player was painted like a Mighty Duck in the first place.
"It was either the popularity of the movie or one of the teams, like the Eels, may have been their colors at the time," he said.
The rink is expected to see more activity in the year, as Olympic figure skating and hockey piques the interest of the general public, sending a slight uptick in business.
"It really starts generating a lot of interest, especially in public skate sessions," Lindemuth said.
The rink commonly sees Olympic athletes train at the rink this time of year, whether it's Mark Ludwig or other hopefuls. A Great Britain pair is training this season, Lindemuth said, and are competing at their qualifying tournament in Europe this week.
As successful as it is, Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, principal owner of MJ Squared, which owns the property, said he is not selling the rink, after a failed auction in 2008.
"We've had some people wanting to buy the ice rink, but I don't want to sell the skating rink," said Bennett, who once had plans to turn the rink into a bowling alley after acquiring the land in 2005. "If the right person comes along and has a pocket full of stupid money, we'll fix them up."
It turned out the ice rink is a great business venture, hosting regional and national tournaments and servings as a home to Olympic figure skaters.
"The ice rink in itself was a whole interesting deal through the downturn of the economy," Bennett said. "It's really strange, and most people don't understand when I say the ice rink is the only business I own in Florida that is doing amazing."
Bennett and his business partner are looking for a new tenant for the former Ellenton Steakhouse, which closed earlier this year. The space has been somewhat of a revolving door for restaurants.
"We'd like to find a national tenant," Bennett said. "My partner says we don't want another restaurant, and I'm tired of the restaurant business, but you look at whatever's out there."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.