SIDELINE SCENE: Proposed Solar Bears facility could benefit local community

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  • | 7:07 a.m. January 15, 2015
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Nothing’s official, but Winter Garden got some exciting news last week.

While they will continue to play their games at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando for the foreseeable future, the Orlando Solar Bears, a minor-league hockey team competing in the East Coast Hockey League, are looking to make Winter Garden their new second home.

At least, that’s how things appear as the team’s owners, the Haleski family, filed preliminary plans with the city of Winter Garden last week to build an ice hockey facility and community center on a 16-acre parcel of land off East Crown Point Road, just northwest of Plant Street and State Road 429.

According to Bob Mills, a spokesperson for the the team, the venture is only in its initial stages.

“The Orlando Solar Bears’ mission is to grow interest and expand participation in the sport of hockey in the Central Florida area,” Mills said in a prepared statement. “We are in the initial exploratory stages of developing a community center in Winter Garden.”

The purpose of the statement was to convey a sense of “nothing is official yet,” a sentiment reinforced in a separate statement put out by Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer, but within that statement is reason for local residents of Winter Garden, and West Orange County at large, to be excited. 

The key words are “community center,” or, as referenced in the city’s statement, a “multi-purpose community center.”

You see, sure, it would be an exciting thing for residents of Winter Garden to say this is where the Solar Bears practice. The franchise always has had strong support throughout Central Florida, a place where hockey has an underrated following and interest level. 

But the novelty of it would wear off.  What’s intriguing is that this facility sounds like something the entire community — and especially the youth of the area — could use. 

It sounds like, with preliminary plans for two ice rinks, this Winter Garden-based facility will be a lot like the RDV Sportsplex and Ice Den in Maitland, where the Solar Bears currently train. That facility has long been a destination for sports enthusiasts of all types, with an expansive gymnasium, and, of course, for hockey and ice-skating enthusiasts around Central Florida. A similar facility, if it were to become a reality, would mean that families that once had to commute a half-hour to Maitland will now be just a hop, skip and a jump away from youth skating lessons and ice hockey leagues.

And that’s exciting.

Nothing is set in stone, of course. More details and information will come out in the days and weeks to come. What’s important to note, though, is that if this does come to fruition, it sounds like it will mean a lot more for the community than simply being the place where Orlando’s hockey team practices — although that’s pretty cool, too, in and of itself.


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