Irvine’s Great Park Ice facility truly a sight to behold
It was a mission that began in 2005 when Henry and Susan Samueli purchased the Anaheim Ducks from the Walt Disney Company – to grow the sport of hockey and build a community around it at a grassroots level.
But at the time, the demand for ice far exceeded the resources.
Over the years, ice and inline facilities across Orange County were developed and acquired to meet the overwhelming demand, but still, resources were stretched thin. Now, 14 years later, the Samuelis are seeing their dreams come true.
On March 7, Irvine Ice Foundation showcased Great Park Ice – a dazzling state-of-the-art public ice facility at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The massive 280,000 square-foot facility is the largest in California and one of the nation’s most expansive ice facilities. It’s estimated that the $110-million Great Park Ice facility will welcome one million participants and visitors in its first year of operation. It’s financially supported by the Samueli Foundation and Anaheim Ducks Foundation with zero taxpayer dollars.
“This is a milestone day for the Great Park and the residents of Orange County,” Henry Samueli said in his welcoming message to special guests, media members and the facility’s founding partners attending the showcase event. “Great Park Ice will be a beacon of community activities, such as hockey, public recreational skating, competitive and recreational figure skating, sled hockey, curling, broomball and much more. As part of Irvine Ice Foundation’s mandate, all proceeds generated from Great Park Ice will go to further the growth of ice sports and activities locally.”
The facility includes four sheets of ice, including FivePoint Arena, which features seating for 2,500 spectators, giving the area’s rapidly increasing high school hockey league an appropriate location to host highly-attended games as well as highly-anticipated figure skating competitions and other events that require additional seating. There is also a 7,000 square-foot dryland training center on the premises, two snack bars, an 800 square-foot Ducks team store, 1,900 square-foot pro shop, a full-service sports-themed restaurant overlooking two sheets of ice and more than 1,000 free parking spots.
“When we bought the Ducks in 2005, one of the biggest issues was we wanted to build a community around ice hockey,” Samueli said. “Get kids involved and create learn-to-skate programs, but there just wasn’t enough ice around to do it. We started that mission back then of ‘How do we grow more ice in the community and build more facilities?’ That’s when we started thinking about doing a major project like this.”
Originally, the plan was for this to be a three-sheet facility with the potential of adding a fourth sheet if necessary, but after further discussions, the decision was made to go big.
“We thought three sheets was a reasonable number,” Samueli said. “Maybe we’ll leave room to expand to four, but then we sat down and said it’s too hard to do things like this in phases. Let’s just build the bigger version first and let that be out there. We wanted to size this thing to handle the next 20 years of growth.”
The Samuelis have always understood the importance of growing the sport of hockey at the grassroots level. The highly successful Learn to Play hockey program, funded by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, offers first-time hockey players between the ages of four and 10 the chance to learn to play for free, and is offered at ice and inline facilities around the area. There is also an adult version of the program.
“We felt that if you want to grow the sport, you need to start with the kids,” Samueli said. “You just don’t magically turn an adult into a fan of hockey overnight. But when you’re a kid, and you start skating and you can see how much fun it is to get on the ice and play hockey, that naturally grows up with them. When they become adults, they’re hockey fans. It’s a multi-decade effort. It’s not something you do in a year or two. We had that vision when we bought the team. We wanted to build the sport over many decades to make it a major sport in Orange County and Southern California.”
In addition to Learn to Play and Learn to Skate programs, Great Park Ice will host the Jr. Ducks and Lady Ducks, the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, sled hockey and a Top Flight hockey program designed for participants with special needs. It’s all part of the Samuelis’ desire to make ice skating accessible to everyone.
The Samuelis hope this facility will also help spawn the next generation of homegrown talent to make it to the professional ranks.
“As we start seeing more and more kids make it to the national levels and become world-class skaters – not only figure skaters, but ice skaters – and start getting some of our kids here locally all of a sudden become drafted into the NHL, we’re going to start seeing that,” Henry Samueli said. “Local kids becoming NHL players. We’re already seeing world-class figure skaters and Olympic-class figure skaters. That’s what you want to see. Not only young kids, but all the way through the professional ranks. Having them homegrown in Southern California.”
— Anaheim Ducks Staff
(April 5, 2019)