Blackhawks set to open state-of-the-art ice arena ahead of schedule

7 September 2017

Hockey season is in full swing on the West Side. In a controlled chaos, the final touches are being put on the Blackhawks Community Ice Arena located not far from the United Center.

The privately-funded $60 million project that spans 125,000 square feet is scheduled to be opened Nov. 15 — on budget and ahead of the original completion date.

It is then the Hawks will be able to hold their first practice at the state-of-the-art facility. It is also then that the community will have a public arena with every imaginable amenity to help grow the game with available ice as well as educational services. Situated two blocks from the United Center at the corner of Jackson and Wood, approximately 94 percent of the arena’s use will be used for community, youth and adult hockey leagues.

Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz footed the bill for the arena and had a two-fold plan: Give Hawks players and coaches everything they could possibly want — and more — from a practice rink and also allow the youth of Chicago — many of whom are without access to ice — to experience the sport and come to embrace it.

“It’s really a community ice rink that the Hawks are going to happen to practice in, instead of the other way around,” Wirtz said as he toured the facility Wednesday morning.

Wirtz opted to go big, eschewing the idea of a practice facility adjacent to the United Center that would have one sheet of ice just for his hockey team to one that has two full sheets of ice, 22 locker rooms, training, educational and medical facilities along with a restaurant, juice and coffee bars, spectator viewing areas that will seat 277 at each sheet, among other amenities.

“If you have unconditional commitment to winning on the ice you have to have unconditional commitment to winning off the ice and this is what came of that,” Wirtz said.

No expense has been spared as the arena will also have features ranging from a heated room to dry equipment, natural lighting, two electric Zambonis, public fitness space, media workroom with laptop stations, rooftop deck, rubber flooring (for walking with skates on) and a room that will allow Hawks players — and visiting youth and adult teams — to work on their shooting and stick-handling. It is so high-tech that the private entrance for Hawks players and personnel will have a thumb scanner to allow access. Open skates will be held on the weekends.

Perhaps most important is the Hawks’ commitment to growing the game and to that end they are partnering with Chicago Public Schools to provide 16-week programs for up to 120 kids three days per week. The Hawks will provide transportation and equipment for the children — at no cost to the schools.

“When the kids are here the goal is to educate them on physical fitness, health and wellness, STEM education, nutrition and to also let them get on the ice and learn the game,” arena general manager Andrea Hahn said. “This has been in the works for three years. We’ve been in the schools teaching them floor hockey so third and fourth graders have the base of this and fifth grade is when they advance and they come to the facility.”