MORRISVILLE — It took more than two decades, but the Carolina Hurricanes will soon finally have a top-notch practice facility to call their own.
The team and Ammons Building Corporation announced last Friday that the Hurricanes will be the main tenant of a new two-rink facility in Morrisville that is set to open in May or June, with the team moving in ahead of August’s training camp.
“This will be a major upgrade for us,” Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said. “This will be a big thing for us as we try to attract players.”
The 120,000-square-foot facility will have a dedicated area for the Hurricanes that includes a state-of-the-art weight room, a locker room and lounge for the players, a coaches office and meeting room, a medical office and treatment area, and a room for equipment storage and laundry.
It’s all part of the $30 million Wake Competition Center (WCC) that is only about 3 miles from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. On top of the building that houses the two ice rinks, the Wake Competition Center is home to volleyball and gymnastics facilities, two soccer fields, and another building that features an athletic training space and orthopedic center.
It’s not developer Jeff Ammons’ first foray into ice rinks.
Ammons retrofitted an old street-sweeper plant into the area’s other two-sheet facility — The Factory, a popular mixed-use entertainment center in Wake Forest that he sold off in 2015 — in the early 2000s. Ammons also owns Raleigh’s Polar Iceplex — an Olympic-sized rink — and Raleigh Center Ice, the Hurricanes’ current practice facility also known as RCI.
“I came here in 2014 and I was asking our players what we could do for them,” Waddell said, “and they kept telling me we need a new practice facility. … As Jeff says, this project has been on our plate for a very long time, and we owe a lot to (Hurricanes owner) Tom Dundon here, because when Tom came in he said, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ And so that brings us to today.”
Waddell said the conditions at RCI precluded the team from using it in its sale pitch to players because the club-turned-rink “was not very good.”
“Right now we take them to PNC Arena, we tell them we don’t really have a practice rink — we don’t want to take them over to RCI,” Waddell joked. “So this will be something that we’ll be very proud of, and we’re very happy to partner with Jeff on this project and look forward to spending even more time in Morrisville.”
With the move to WCC — the entire WCC project received $3 million in public fund, and the team has paid for up-fitting its 12,000 square feet of space in the ice skating facility and will lease from Ammons — the Hurricanes will hold all their practices in Morrisville except for game day morning skates, which will still take place at PNC Arena. Practices will remain free and open to the public.
On top of the Hurricanes using the new facility, Ammons also plans to use the two rinks for college hockey games, public skating, youth hockey, figure skating and more. The building will house a sports academy, restaurant and pro shop.
With a 2,000-seat capacity, both Ammons and the Hurricanes also want to attract major youth hockey tournaments to the region.
“We’re going to really push, from a hockey standpoint, to try to get as many national tournaments, state tournaments (as we can),” Waddell said. “There’s never been this kind of facility in this region, so we haven’t had an opportunity for these big events. So now we will.”
The team and Ammons also hope WCC becomes part of the hosting rotation for the NHL Prospects Showcase, a summer tournament that features NHL teams’ top prospects, in the coming years.
Ammons said he plans to close RCI — which the Hurricanes have used as their practice facility when they were unable to practice at PNC Arena due to other events since 2001 — once WCC is up and running.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he will remember RCI fondly despite its inadequacies.
“I’ve been here for 20 years. No one remembers when we first got here and we had to shower at the Canes and walk through the lobby in our robes,” Brind’Amour said when referring to when he first came to Carolina in early 2000 before the team used RCI. “So this is a huge upgrade here (at RCI) already. I like it here, it’s been great for us. Obviously, getting a new facility is going to be real special.”
In all, the Triangle will have eight sheets of ice with the addition of Wake Competition Center’s two rinks and closing of RCI: two each at WCC and The Factory and single-sheet rinks in Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Hillsborough.
Bringing the two rinks to Morrisville will bridge the gap between the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough and the other five rinks in central Wake County.
“We felt like this part of the county is sort of underserved,” Ammons said. “Chapel Hill, Durham, growing hockey in those areas is important to us.”