Gallatin and Hendersonville city leaders have been in separate discussions with the Nashville Predators about the possibility of building a local ice rink, but public officials say funding would need to come from the private sector and not taxpayers.
The professional hockey organization has expressed interest in managing a facility with preferably two sheets of ice, according to Gallatin Economic Development Agency Executive Director James Fenton, who met with Predators President and CEO Sean Henry and a local developer about the project in January.
"This is something that could become a signature attraction for the area," Fenton said. "Wherever it goes, it's going to create an interest around it and draw traffic, but there has to be (financial) participation for it to be built."
In Nashville, Metro officials approved $14 million to build Ford Ice Center in Antioch, which opened in 2014. The 86,000-square-foot hockey center features two multi-purposed ice rinks along with team locker rooms and meeting rooms.
However, Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary and Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown both said last week they are not in favor of using city funds to pay for a similar project.
Clary, who has also talked with Henry, added he plans to request the city's industrial development board finance a feasibility study to evaluate if an ice rink could be successful in Hendersonville, and if so, where it should be located.
"When I was knocking on doors (campaigning), I had a lot of people that mentioned ice hockey," Clary said. "If I don't get involved, or somebody that can push everybody in the same direction doesn't get involved, then I feel like it's just going to continue to be a bunch of people talking about it."
Each week, Predators' officials meet with multiple organizations regarding possible partnership opportunities for building new ice rinks in an effort to help increase local interest in hockey at the grassroots level, according to spokesman Kevin Wilson.
But as the sport's popularity continues to grow, local hockey teams have had to reduce the amount of time they spend on the ice to accommodate increasing demand.
Hendersonville High School's hockey team, which mainly practices at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, had the number of weekly on-ice training and games it participated in slashed last year from four to two, according to head coach Tim Rathert.
"There is just not enough available ice time," Rathert said. "If we had a rink in Hendersonville we would probably be on the ice every day. It's something that is long overdue for us and the impact for Sumner County and for all of us would be huge."
Despite an announcement that Metro Nashville and the Predators had reached an agreement last month for a new two-sheet ice rink in Bellevue, the hockey organization is still interested in additional facilities in the future, according to Wilson.
In addition to Sumner County, Predators officials have been involved in discussions with groups from Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Davidson County, Williamson County and Bowling Green, Ky.
"We hope that we're able to put a dozen rinks down in the area if we can," Wilson said. "It's just a matter of finding the right fit between the different organizations, governments and the Preds."
While an ice hockey rink may not be a feasible investment for Gallatin, Brown said there might be a way where the city could work with Hendersonville and the county to create some type of incentives for the project.
"Certainly we'd be open to any creative ideas," Brown said. "Whether it's in Hendersonville or Gallatin, it's going to benefit both communities."