Hamilton - the ice skating capital of NZ?

Plans to build world class ice rink in Northgate

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 13:53 17/02/2014
Hugh Speirs
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
Future of ice sports: Hugh Speirs with a look at a scale model of the Hamilton international ice rink he plans to build at Northgate near Te Rapa.

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Hamilton could very well become the ice skating capital of New Zealand with a world-class ice rink planned for the north of the city.

Construction of the 1200-seat complex is expected to begin next year.

It will house a full-sized ice hockey rink, six corporate boxes, a restaurant and a motel.

The man behind the rink, businessman Hugh Speirs, put the value of the build at $10 million. He has secured a site next to Mangaharakeke Dr, just north of the Wintec campus.

He said there would be no other facility like it in New Zealand. "It'll be the best ice hockey rink in New Zealand, without question," he said.

Corporate boxes will be also used as conference rooms, and a sound room and studio will allow live streaming and broadcasting of events.

Athletes will get the best facilities available with lockers, laundry and a drying room for equipment, six changing rooms and one especially built for women.

"This is going to be the line in the sand. All new rinks are going to have to meet this. This and better."

Hamilton City Council's Rotokauri Structure Plan includes an employment area to the west of the expressway where the ice rink is planned.

It will include a green corridor and recreational corridor from Lake Waiwhakareke to Lake Rotokauri and will separate the Te Rapa industrial zone from a projected urban growth area that will house 20,000 residents.

Mr Speirs has been working with council town planners and said his project falls within the designated zoning requirements.

Mr Speirs is no stranger to development.

He built three ten-pin bowling alleys, including one at Te Rapa which was sold to Perry Developments Ltd before it was ripped up and moved to Skycity.

He also has a long history with ice hockey.

His son, Brett Speirs, was a member of the New Zealand ice hockey team and plays for the Canterbury Red Devils.

Mr Speirs remembered the early morning drives to Auckland for training when his son was a teenager, back to Hamilton for school then another drive to Auckland for another session on the ice.

He said a number of Waikato skaters continue to do the same and it was time Hamilton had a purpose-built facility.

"People don't realise the amount of kids who spend a lot of money and a lot of time - an hour and a half getting up there, an hour and a half back.

"That's three hours a game travelling that really, really would be better spent on the ice."

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New Zealand hosts international ice hockey tournaments "on a regular basis", the bulk of them in Auckland, though Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown have also been hosts.

At a tournament in Queenstown during winter, Mr Speirs said all of the teams shared a single changing shed and organisers erected a marquee for them and heated it with gas blowers.

Six teams attend those tournaments but some of the New Zealand facilities were "shabby" and Mr Speirs said it was time to build ones for the future of the sport.

"To get the international games we need a centre that can hold a reasonable amount of people and six changing rooms with showers and toilets and other facilities," he said.

"It has all of the facilities that make it more than an ice rink, it'll be a community where people, ice hockey guys, figure skaters, speed skaters, curlers will go down there and it'll be their home from home."

He expected competition for talented athletes from Dunedin and Christchurch to heat up.

"The other thing we'll be doing is three university scholarships a year to pinch the kids from the South Island and from Auckland and will give us the ability to pick international kids."

New Zealand inline speed skaters were some of the world's best and he expected many of them to make the switch to ice and become part of a huge international community.

"We are the best in the world [at inline] because no-one does it.

"All of the speed skating is on ice.

"We get this going, we'll have one of the best speed skate ice tracks in New Zealand."

People enjoyed the temporary Garden Place ice rink but it closed in 2013 and previously Hamilton's Ice Bowl closed in 1996.

- Waikato

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