What are the Florida Panthers really doing in Fort Lauderdale Holiday Park? New restaurant, large concert hall on the way – Sun Sentinel

What exactly are the Florida Panthers doing in this fabric of steel and construction dust in the historic War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Fort Lauderdale?

The buzz has been around a community rink and a Panthers training facility – but will there be something for people who don’t skate and follow hockey?

That’s the point.

The new venue, slated to open this summer, will host nationwide touring bands and comedians: As part of the 144,000-square-foot holiday park project, the Panthers are transforming the 70 years into a state-of-the-art concert and performance art space with a capacity of almost 4,000 seats. Live Nation Entertainment will be booking many shows.

There will also be a new downtown dining destination: On the second floor of the resort’s new wing, a family-friendly indoor-outdoor restaurant will be operated by prolific Fort Lauderdale hotel entrepreneur David Cardaci.

Located on the east side of the resort, the restaurant’s 5,000 square foot outdoor terrace will overlook the bustling pickle ball courts of Holiday Park.

Best known for downtown nightlife hotspots such as Rhythm & Vine, Roxanne’s, The Wilder, and The Angeles, Cardaci’s restaurants range from the casual Whole Enchilada across the street (as well as in Plantation and Oakland Park) to the popular Holly Blue in Flagler Village. He also runs Harrell’s, an artisan hot dog and ice cream shop in Winter Garden.

The new restaurant will play a vital role in creating the relationship the Panthers desire with traditional park users, said Bryce Hollweg, executive vice president of the Panthers.

“The master plan for this was to really make Holiday Park the central park of Fort Lauderdale. We know how many people use the grounds, pickle ball courts and other facilities out back…and there are very few to no dining options on the property. There’s nothing for mom and dad watching a football game,” says Hollweg.

A native of Los Angeles, Hollweg moved to downtown Fort Lauderdale a year ago from Vancouver, Canada, where he worked for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. He sees huge potential for the Panthers to increase local interest in hockey as the area’s population grows.

“I see extreme growth, especially in this area of ​​Flagler Village. You see skyscrapers rising, you see people moving in. It’s exciting to be a part of it,” he says.

The centerpiece of the $65 million War Memorial Auditorium revitalization project, created through a public-private partnership with the city of Fort Lauderdale, are two NHL-regulated ice rinks, slated to open this summer. Cardaci’s restaurant is expected to open at the same time, while the concert hall is expected to go live several months later, Hollweg said.

An ice rink on the north side of the new building, called the Baptist Health Iceplex, will be designated for community skating, as well as hockey leagues and figure skating events and instruction. The rink will have its own concession area and private reception areas.

The south side will include the Panthers practice rink, as well as a team gymnasium and practice facility. Baptist Health Iceplex will be the team’s official training venue and will include free spectator seating for up to 1,000 fans to attend practices and the pre-season training camp, which begins in September. When the Panthers are not using this rink, it will be accessible to the public.

The Panthers will still play games at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, and the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs will continue to host youth hockey leagues and figure skating.

But when it opens, the Holiday Park facility will be the hub of all other player activity, if you’re into pro athlete sightings.

Hollweg says about half of the Panthers roster lives in east Fort Lauderdale, including half a dozen young players in new residential buildings across the Federal Highway in Flagler Village.

The No. 1 Florida Panthers have been one of the NHL’s most exciting teams this season and its most successful team. The new training venue could open around the time some NHL team (a-hem) is planning its Stanley Cup parade. Tickets for the Panthers moving train are free and available now.

“Our attendance increases match after match. It tells its own story,” says Hollweg. “The more we can get into the community here, bring in new players, new families, that will only help our goal at Sunrise.”

Stone Carlton, resident of the Earl of Fort Lauderdale. Sporting a Panthers hat, Carlton shot pucks into a goal on the Holiday Park roller hockey rink on Tuesday in the shadow of the new facility.

Carlton, 25, plays both roller hockey and ice hockey two or three times a week. He’s attended about eight Panthers games at FLA Live Arena this season.

“I think the new facility will be great and attract a new generation of people who will want to play hockey, since it’s the most accessible place for everyone,” he said.

He’s also looking forward to the restaurant and concert hall — with one caveat.

“I’m interested to see how it affects traffic, but it will be nice to have a site so close,” says Carlton.

Cardaci’s restaurant, named TBD, will be accessible via the Iceplex and will also have a separate staircase on the side of the building facing the park to encourage parents and Holiday Park players – from baseball and soccer to pickle ball .

While offering visitors to the park and hockey venue a menu of take-out dining options, Cardaci says the restaurant will operate as a stand-alone downtown dining establishment. Its 120 to 150 seats will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as brunch.

Chef Johnny Demartini, currently at the Wilder and formerly of Lionfish in Delray Beach, will lead the kitchen.

“It’s going to be a great everything destination. Before we go to a concert or a comedy number at the entertainment center, or after the family is done playing a game of T-ball, it will be amazing,” says Cardaci, father of a 5-year-old son. years. “And we will have a solid drinks program for the evenings.

People who might be distracted by Cardaci’s reputation for flashy nightlife — he opened the Easton in Flagler Village with a performance by Diplo — are missing the point, says Hollweg.

Cardaci understands what its customers want and it gives it to them, he says.

“He knows this area. He knows the demographics and he knows what people like and dislike. He knows how to create a pleasant experience. He knows how to release a good product, and that was important to me,” says Hollweg.

The War Memorial Auditorium opened on the west side of the 93-acre holiday park in 1950 to honor veterans who served in World War II.

Noting Florida Panthers owner Vince Viola’s personal interest in honoring military service — Viola served in the U.S. military — Hollweg says the War Memorial Auditorium is being restored to its former glory , grounds with the Art Deco name on the roof.

“A lot of thought has gone into preserving the original architecture…its Art Deco look,” says Hollweg. “We’re preserving the past, preserving the history of what it means, what this building means not just to veterans, but to the community as a whole.”

The construction of the concert hall has gutted the interior of the War Memorial Auditorium, the elegant curved beams of the ceiling now being its only recognizable feature.

It’s a play rock icon Buddy Holly performed in less than a year before his death in 1959, hosted a 1980 campaign rally by future President Ronald Reagan, followed by a parade of game wrestling, roller derby, flower displays and gun shows. in poor condition. It was also the site of actor Mickey Rourke’s successful boxing debut.

The new auditorium will include a new stage on the east side of the space, accommodating over 3,000 standing general admission ticket holders. Two large bars will sit at each end of the rectangle. Overlooking the venue, there will be a new level on the second floor with its own bar for ticketed VIP customers, who will have their own bar.

The venue will occupy a unique niche in the market between the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Arts, the Kravis Center and the Fillmore Miami Beach (capacity 2,200-2,500) and Hard Rock Live in Hollywood (7,000).

Just steps from the War Memorial Auditorium at Holiday Park’s main entrance, The Parker reopened in September after its own $30 million renovation. Run by the Broward Center, The Parker seats approximately 1,100 people.

The parking lot will initially be built on existing grass lots on the west side of the site, but the Panthers and The Parker officials hope to see a multi-level parking lot erected on one of the lots in the near future.

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at bcrandell@sunsentinel.com.

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