Florida Panthers near vote to replace gun show at War Memorial

The Florida Panthers are serious about plans to replace the gun show at War Memorial Auditorium — a multimillion-dollar investment to provide public ice skating and hockey rinks, and indoor sports fields.

The chilly new sports destination could be part of a larger overhaul for the city’s Holiday Park, a 93-acre playground off Federal Highway, south of Sunrise Boulevard. The Panther plans could get a boost Tuesday, when city commissioners are expected to vote to formalize their intent to seal a deal with the hockey team’s new social purpose corporation.

A final lease agreement — at a term of $1 a year for 50 years — would be voted on April 16.

The National Hockey League team’s new civic arm plans a major redo at the 1950s auditorium in Holiday Park. The plan, still in formation, could include a new indoor rink with two sheets of ice, a city commissioner familiar with the plans said.

The auditorium and land are publicly owned, but the city can lease it to a civic or charitable organization without a competitive process if the public would benefit, a memo from City Manager Chris Lagerbloom says. In this case, the War Memorial Benefit Corporation would provide rinks for public skating, recreational and youth hockey, youth figure skating, indoor soccer and other sports, according to the memo.

The Panthers play in the county-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise and practice in the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

Until recently, the auditorium filled up with weapons on a regular basis for the Florida Gun Shows Inc.’s gun and knife show. City commissioners put a stop to the show — which had drawn controversy for years. The gun show sued, and the city recently beefed up its legal team to fight.

The new sports complex would be part of a greater plan to rejuvenate Holiday Park if the city’s $200 million parks bond passes in March, City Commissioner Steve Glassman said. Holiday Park is one of four “signature” projects the city is promising. The bond, paid for with a property tax increase, would provide $21 million for renovation of the concession stands, tennis center and tennis courts, plus more racquetball courts, a shade structure for the baseball field, an athletic field and a $10 million parking garage that would clear up space for more sports fields and offer recreation on top.

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