Now that a site has been set aside for an indoor hockey facility in Pickerington, a nonprofit group hopes it will help boost its effort to raise $8 million for the project's construction.

Pickerington City Council voted unanimously June 14 to approve an agreement to give the Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio exclusive rights to 8 acres of undeveloped land 1111 and 1113 Gray Drive.

Under the terms of the agreement, which extends through Sept. 1, 2021, the foundation has pledged to "use its best efforts" to raise approximately $8 million for the construction of an 80,000-square-foot, indoor hockey facility at the property. The city is charging the organization $10 for the 2 year lease.

The facility would feature two sheets of ice, thereby establishing the first indoor ice rinks in central Ohio south of Interstate 70.

With the agreement in place, foundation volunteers hope it will provide legitimacy to their campaign, which began in June 2018.

"It is the first big hurdle in a marathon of hurdles," said Kirstin Watts, Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio founder and president. "It demonstrates the city's commitment to the project by their willingness to invest resources in the project.

"It changes the tenor with potential donors."

Watts said the foundation has raised "very little" of the $8 million it needs for the current plans it has for the facility since becoming an official nonprofit organization in January.

But in addition to the agreement with the city, Watts is hopeful fundraising would be buoyed by the Center Ice Summer Classic, a 3-on-3 hockey tournament it's hosting July 19-21 at Chiller North, 8144 Highfield Drive, Lewis Center.

Entry fees for each seven-player team in the seven divisions, ranging from "mites" to adults, is $560, and all proceeds are going directly to the Pickerington project.

The foundation also will seek to raise its profile by having a float in Pickerington's July Fourth parade.

"We have a really active social media campaign," Watts said. "When you think about what we have left to do, it can be daunting. But when you think about what we've accomplished in a short amount of time, there's a lot to be proud of."

Pickerington City Council President Mike Sabatino said city leaders supported the land agreement because "It provides a potential recreation opportunity for a very popular activity that is very lacking in venue sites on this side of metro Columbus. Also ... no taxation to residents is needed in this approach.

"We are well aware of their fundraising approach, Sabatino said. "They had to wait on the IRS for their 501(c)(3) designation. We are giving them two years to reach their goal, which we feel is a reasonable timeframe.

"We had no other plans for the land, so it costs us nothing to give them the opportunity to be successful."

Watts maintains there's a need for a rink south of I-70 because the popularity of hockey, including the rising success of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is spurring youth and adult hockey players in communities throughout the region, including Pickerington, Canal Winchester, Grove City and Lancaster.

She also noted "significant numbers" of prospective players are being turned away from youth hockey because limited availability of ice time in existing rinks means program enrollments must be capped.

"We live in a community (in Pickerington) that has world-class sports in every other varsity sport," Watts said.

The foundation is working to find corporate partners and other potential large donors. Volunteers calculated they would need to raise roughly $10,000 a day to meet their goal by the end of the 24-month land-lease pact.

Additionally, the group continues talks to turn over management of the facility, if built, to OhioHealth Chiller, an entity owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Chiller operates eight indoor rinks in Columbus, Dublin, Lewis Center and Worthington.

"The Blue Jackets and Chiller have done tremendous things to grow and further hockey in our community -- both youth hockey and adult hockey," Watts said.

"We chose the Chiller to partner with because they've been such a tremendous organization and they've demonstrated such operational excellence.

"We just have to catch the eyes of the right philanthropists."

More information -- including how to make a donation -- can be found on the foundation's website: centericefoundationoh.org.

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