NEAR WEST SIDE — If the Chicago Blackhawks go through with a plan to build a new practice facility on the Near West Side, the building would be open to the public the vast majority of the time, Rocky Wirtz said this week.
"Really, it's a community ice rink that the Hawks will practice on," the team owner said. "People just want to go where the Hawks go."
Wirtz projected the Hawks would use it less than 10 percent of the time, with an estimated 92 percent of the time it being thrown open to public use.
The arena would be on the order of the practice facility the Bulls have recently built.
"We're working on it," Wirtz said. "There's different land right around the United Center. Some of the land we have, and some the team doesn't control yet."
Wirtz said they're "working with the city" on a final location, and "I think we'll get it done. It's just gonna take a little work." It's not as simple as it seems, he added, because they need to not only find a lot with a footprint to handle two ice rinks, as desired by the team, but with an adjacent lot with 200 parking spaces for the considerable public participation the Hawks envision.
Crain's reported last year that the site was originally slated to be 70,000 square feet and located at the northeast corner of Wood and Madison; however, the project has grown and could be too large for that site.
It's projected to have two rinks, player locker rooms, a coaches' area, and a training facility and weight room, so that it's the sort of place to show off to lure free agents to the team.
"That's if you put your hockey hat on," Wirtz said. "I'm looking at it to build the sport."
Wirtz noted that there aren't many places to ice skate in Chicago.
"Look at how few ice surfaces there are in the city," Wirtz said. "The suburbs have plenty of ice surfaces, but the city doesn't."
He pointed to the way Johnny's Ice House has a lottery to mete out ice time, and to the avid response to the new ice ribbon at Millennium Park.
"There's plenty of demand for it," Wirtz said, adding, "Build it, and they'll come."
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