By staff writer

February 2019

South Florida’s professional ice hockey team has its sights set on renovating and expanding the War Memorial Auditorium, owned by the City of Fort Lauderdale. The venue found itself in the spotlight last year as the longtime host of the controversial Florida Gun and Knife show, which the city decided not to renew in April following the Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. The lease for the 30-year show ran out in November 2018.

The War Memorial Auditorium opened in January 1950 in Holiday Park as a cultural center, bringing symphony and opera performances, as well as civic and sports functions, to the area. Money to build the venue, which serves as a memorial for veterans and fallen soldiers of World War II, was raised by the community. Tributes to Korean and Vietnam veterans were added later.

The Panthers recently presented the City of Fort Lauderdale with a hefty proposal, looking to spend up to $50 million on renovating the inside of the auditorium to create indoor soccer, lacrosse and other sporting facilities for the area’s youth, as well as adding two ice rinks in the rear. In return for the team bankrolling these renovations, the city would lease the Panthers the space for $1 a year for up to 50 years.

While helping to revamp the area around the auditorium and transforming it into a more family-friendly destination, the Panthers would also have the opportunity to promote the team, grow the sport of hockey and encourage children to participate in a wide variety of sporting activities. The city would benefit from the capital improvements without having to pay for them. It seems like a win-win for both parties.

For the Panthers, community is important to both players and staff. “It’s important whether you’re winning or losing to keep up a steady stream of community work,” Matthew Caldwell, president & CEO of the Florida Panthers, told Invest: when he sat down with our team last year. “We have a culture where our employees are really proud to do all this community and volunteer work. It’s part of our DNA now; we just think that it’s the right thing to do, but we’re also businessmen. We think that, long term, we will create a fan base because we’re building these kinds of relationships.”

Revitalizing the War Memorial Auditorium and bringing family-friendly sporting activities to the neighborhood aligns with this community spirit well. It also puts the Panthers’ name and the sport of hockey in the spotlight. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale will be keeping an eye on the Panthers’ proposal and the city’s response to it in 2019.

For more information on the Florida Panthers, visit https://www.nhl.com/panthers.

For more information on the City of Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium, visit: https://www.fortlauderdale.gov/departments/parks-recreation/war-memorial-auditorium