The Tampa Tribune: “Supporters look to Ice Palace for waterfront power play”

 In Ice Palace, News Archives

Excerpt from The Tampa Tribune, October 21, 1996

TAMPA — In early November about four years ago, an ambitious young Hillsborough County commissioner was convinced he had saved the day.

He had just made his best pitch to David LeFevre, governor of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, on why an arena for the team should be built downtown.

LeFevre, who hadn’t been in town long, listened politely. But after the telephone conversation was over, he asked his secretary, “Who the hell is Ed Turanchik?”

“LeFevre didn’t know me from Adam,” Turanchik says, still chuckling at the memory.

While LeFevre might not have known Turanchik’s name then, he certainly got Turanchik’s message. The proof of that comes tonight, with the grand opening of the Ice Palace, a 20,000-seat hall of noise tucked along the city’s waterfront. The Lightning play the New York Rangers in the arena’s first major event, with the puck expected to drop around 7:50 p.m.

Turanchik, still on the county commission, guided the $160 million project through the twists and turns of political fortune to reality. The project created a rift among the champions of downtown and those who believed it should be built on Dale Mabry Highway, next to Tampa Stadium.

“We figured the arena would generate economic development if we put it downtown,” said Jim Cloar, president of Tampa’s Downtown Partnership — a business organization that promotes downtown growth.

“If we had put the arena by the stadium, it would have created a very nice sports complex. But if people just drive to it and then drive back home, what have we gained? This was a chance to have a great sports complex and get some spin off from it.”

LeFevre was one of those who favored building by the stadium. People were used to driving out Dale Mabry for Tampa Bay Buccaneers games and might be intimidated by the thought of navigating clogged downtown streets.

but he now sees the location — locked between the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Convention Center — as ideal.

“It is better for the community to have it downtown,” LeFevre said.

The arena can help the convention center handle major events that require extra staging areas, and people coming downtown to the arena will be exposed to the aquarium.

That, officials say, can only help the waterfront area.

A restaurant, Newk’s, has opened next to the arena and more are said to be on the way.

“It ties the Garrison Channel in with downtown and fills a gap that would have been empty for at least a decade” Turanchik said. “What I see happening in the next four years is the emergence of the Ybor, Garrison and convention center crescent as one of the best downtown areas in the United States.”

No matter what happens, there will be growing pains.

Despite months of planning, officials admit they expect congestion around the arena until fans become familiar with parking and traffic patterns. Team and city leaders have been pleading with fans to follow signs and give themselves an extra half hour to get to the games.

The arena is expected to be open up to 150 nights a year, including the 41 Lightning home games. And that kind of activity is expected to help rouse Tampa’s sleepy downtown.

“Sometimes, we in Tampa take for granted and don’t understand what an incredible place this is,” Turanchik said. “We have this incredible waterfront jewel just sitting out there. The Ice Palace is the building that’s going to bring it all together.”