Panthers break ground on new Fort Lauderdale practice home

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers will have a new training facility next year, one that comes with a tie to the team’s deep military roots.

The Panthers held the ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for the facility at Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial, a 71-year-old structure that will be transformed into a community hub with two rinks, a state-of-the-art training center and a ballroom-style performance theater.

Work on the $65 million project — some funded privately, some publicly — is set to be done in June 2022.

“We’re veteran-owned and we hire veterans throughout the organization,” Panthers President and CEO Matt Caldwell said. “I feel like this project hits every pillar.”

Caldwell is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as is Panthers owner Vincent Viola. They were approached by Fort Lauderdale city officials to gauge interest in updating the War Memorial, and it didn’t take long for plans to be up and running.

Fort Lauderdale is about a half-hour east of the arena where the team plays games in Sunrise, Florida. But most of the Panthers’ players live in Fort Lauderdale, so a practice and training facility in that city makes sense to team officials.

“The job is not done,” Viola said, shortly before he, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and others dug into the ceremonial dirt to start the building process — the golden shovels had hockey stick handles. “The mission is not complete. It will not be until we’re standing up here with the Stanley Cup. To put it very simply, champion cities deserve champions. This is a champion city. These are champion regions, and a magnificent, magnificent place. And we will win the Stanley Cup. That’s our commitment.”

The facility will be known as the Baptist Health Iceplex, part of a naming rights deal negotiated by former Panthers player and now the team’s chief commercial officer Shawn Thornton and Aquarius’ Marc Bluestein on Baptist’s behalf.

The Panthers have practiced for years at a facility in Coral Springs, a few minutes away from the game arena. That facility will be transitioned into more of a hub for youth hockey; the Panthers, because of pandemic-related restrictions, held practice this season at the arena in Sunrise.

“The War Memorial Auditorium was historic, and we will continue to preserve the historic value of the building, continue to have it serve as a tribute to all of our Broward County veterans,” Caldwell said. “At the same time, we want to revitalize, bring music and entertainment and ice hockey and fun community activities to the region. So, we think by preserving the past but also investing in the future is going to be great for the city.”

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