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VIDEO: Construction Progressing On New Arena for UGA's Ice Dawgs Hockey Team

Thu June 29, 2023 - Southeast Edition #14
The Red & Black & Urbanize Atlanta

More than a year after it broke ground, construction on the $126 million Classic Center Arena project in downtown Athens, Ga., is moving along on North Thomas Street near the University of Georgia's North Campus and other landmarks, including the Athens Banner-Herald building and several downtown hotels.

The venue is being billed as "Northeast Georgia's premier event facility," by project officials.

Designed by Perkins + Will and Smallwood, the new arena aims to become a regional destination for music, sports, entertainment and other events, with 5,500 permanent seats for Georgia's Ice Dawgs club hockey team, and the ability to host up to 8,500 people for in-the-round shows, or 9,000 for basketball.

Additionally, a team in the ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, has signed on to play games at the Classic Center Arena, reported Urbanize Atlanta.

The facility is being built by JE Dunn Construction, a nationwide firm with an office in Atlanta.

As much as $33 million of the arena's total estimated cost is due to be funded by the state's special-purpose local-option sales tax, or SPLOST, a financing method for funding capital outlay projects in Georgia. The facility will join the multi-use Classic Center next door, a complex that includes a performing arts theater, conference center, and outdoor pavilion for weddings, concerts and sports.

Project backers have predicted the Classic Center Arena will create 600 jobs and generate 90,000 more hotel room nights annually, with an overall impact of $30 million per year.

The 192,000-sq.-ft. project broke ground in February 2022 and is currently expected to finish construction in February 2024, Urbanize Atlanta learned earlier this year. It joins million-dollar condominiums and a transformative mixed-use development as projects of significant scale in downtown Athens' planning pipeline.

Ice Dawgs to Finally Get Top New Arena

The Georgia Ice Dawgs once called the Classic Center complex home, often playing before sold-out crowds. Prior to that, though, the team was forced to travel to the Atlanta Ice Forum in Duluth, where games were played in front of few spectators and without the atmosphere that had existed at the team's home matches in Athens.

"When the [Ice Dawgs were] playing in Duluth, it was pretty much just the parents that would come," Austin Krusko, a former player, told the Red & Black, an Athens news, sports and culture online site. "There really was not a big fan base. Even the people that love UGA and the students here just were not too interested in making that hour-long drive."

During the 2015-16 season — the Ice Dawgs' second full season at the former Classic Center arena — the squad won its first South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) championship.

They continued by winning two of the next three SECHC title games, as well as qualifying for back-to-back American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 National Championships in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

However, in late January or early February of every season, the Ice Dawgs had to move across the street to the Classic Center's Foundry Pavilion, an outdoor venue that cost the team some fan attendance due to cold weather and reduced seating.

That led to the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission in July 2019 to add a proposal to provide $34 million toward the construction of a new arena at the Classic Center complex to the SPLOST 2020 project list, and voters approved the measure that November.

When finished next winter, the new arena will not only give the Ice Dawgs a permanent home for games, but create a significant advantage for future players, as they will no longer have to resort to practicing on the local YMCA field. The new venue will remain within walking distance of UGA's North Campus.

The Red & Black said a new facility also will play a role in attracting potential Ice Dawgs' players. It also is likely to create an advantage over other schools in the SECHC, like Florida, which practices and plays in Jacksonville, nearly 75 mi. from its campus in Gainesville.

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