A group of youth hockey parents and other local supporters have begun an $8-million-fundraising campaign to bring an indoor hockey facility to Pickerington.
When appeals to Violet Township officials failed to secure an indoor ice rink as part of initial plans for the proposed community center, a group of youth and adult hockey proponents were forced back to the drawing board.
Consequently, they have devised an ambitious strategy to finance the project themselves through donations and sponsorships.
The Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio, an organization seeking federal nonprofit status, has been created. The group hopes to raise approximately $8 million for the construction of an indoor ice rink.
The group also has proposed the facility to be built on undeveloped city-owned land at no cost to taxpayers.
A site hasn't been locked in, but Pickerington City Council's finance committee voted 5-0 on Feb. 6 to provide land if the group raises enough money for the project. Councilman Tom Romine did not attend the meeting.
Contingent on fundraising success and construction, the foundation is in talks to turn over management of the facility to OhioHealth Chiller, an entity owned by the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Chiller operates eight indoor rinks in Columbus, Dublin, Worthington and Lewis Center.
"Our mission right now is that we're going to be the fundraising arm for the construction of a rink in Pickerington," said Kirstin Watts, president of the Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio. "That's an aggressive goal.
"We realize it's aggressive, but hockey people are very passionate and if anyone can get it done, I think it's this group."
The existing Chiller facilities house a combined total of 11 sheets of ice and serve as venues for organized youth and high school ice hockey programming in central Ohio, as well as adult hockey leagues.
Watts said, however, none of them are located south of Interstate 70. That means considerable travel and expense for parents and players from places such as Pickerington, Canal Winchester and Grove City, she said, adding her family typically travels to Easton six days a week to take her sixth- and second-grade sons to practices and games.
"This idea was just born of a hockey mom and a bunch of hockey parents saying, 'Gosh, why can't we spend our time and money here instead of driving up to Easton?' " she said.
In pitching the project to council, foundation members said significant numbers of players are being turned away from youth hockey leagues because of capped enrollment created by no additional available ice time in existing rinks.
They noted the Pickerington Local School District has had success in sports such as baseball, basketball and football, which have brought home recent high school state championships and helped produce numerous professional athletes, but said there is no hockey program at the community's two high schools.
Additionally, they pitched the recreational and economic opportunities a Chiller Pickerington could yield as a place for ice skating, youth and adult hockey and sled hockey leagues, as well as a host site for tournaments in those sports.
Pickerington City Manager Frank Wiseman declined to discuss possible sites for the rink, saying there are many caveats and questions around the proposal, but he said city officials recognize it has promise.
"I will be working with our attorney to draft a proposal to start negotiations," he said. "I can tell you the city is interested in this project because of the potential positive economic impact."
Pickerington City Council President Mike Sabatino said the rink likely would be built in the "general vicinity" of Refugee Road, but the city hasn't "defined the exact acreage or where it would be."
He supports the concept because it would add recreational opportunities without raising taxes.
"We believe it's something," Sabatino said. "I've talked to a lot of people who have kids or grandkids or they themselves are involved in hockey.
"It's a way for the city to participate in helping bring this to the community and it's a way to do it without requiring any tax money to be spent on it," he said.
"We're not going to put anything on the ballot that people would have to pay an additional tax on."
"We would essentially crowdfund this rink," Watts said. "In a perfect world, I'd like to have our money in 12 months, begin construction in the next 12 months and be open for fall 2021.
"I want to see good things in our community. I want to see us continue to be a 'best-in-class' place to raise a family, a 'best-in-class' place to raise an athlete."