NORTH LOGAN — With less than a month to go before Games time, the fire of winter sports was ignited with the grand opening of the George S. Eccles Ice Center Wednesday evening.
"How could you have a better time to open an ice arena than right now?" said former North Logan Mayor Jack Draxler. "The timing couldn't be better."
When a venue such as this opens, it's usually pretty slow going before events happen and the community gets active in the facility, said arena spokesman Joe Vizenor. Because of the Winter Games, the new George S. Eccles Ice Center is playing host as a practice facility to four Olympic teams, including the Chinese short-track speed skaters, who also attended the opening ceremony. The center will also welcome the French and Russian figure skaters and the Swiss hockey team in coming weeks. The center will continue to be their practice facility throughout the Olympic Games.
The grand opening soon became standing room only as more than 400 people piled into the ice arena entry. Many had waited years for such a facility in Cache Valley.
The concept of building an ice arena in Cache Valley began shortly after Salt Lake's successful bid announcement for the 2002 Winter Games in June 1995. The Utah Legislature passed a sales tax increase to fund statewide improvements before the Games.
Although a large portion of the funds were allocated for I-15 reconstruction, a small portion was also ear-marked for each city to make improvements in preparation for the games.
Smithfield resident Janet Borg crusaded to use all Cache Valley funds to construct an ice arena. Seventeen of the 19 Cache Valley towns pledged their funds for Borg's cause and construction began in the summer of 2000. Her goal was to have the then-named Bridgerland Ice Arena completed by Jan. 1, 2002, the month before the Olympics.
Borg was the first to skate on the ice New Year's Eve; the center opened to the public the next day.
"We hit a few road blocks along the way where we didn't think we were going to make it," said Logan Mayor Doug Thompson. "But Janet's tenacity and drive kept the project going."
The cost of constructing the facility has come to $4.6 million. More than $2 million came from members of the community in addition to the more than $1 million from sales tax revenues. On Christmas Eve, the Eccles Foundation made a second contribution to the facility to bring their total donation to $1 million. Their donation, presented by foundation trustee Spencer Eccles, changed the name from the proposed Bridgerland Ice Arena to the George S. Eccles Ice Center.
"If you build it, they will come," said Spencer Eccles during Wednesday's ceremony. "In 30 days, they're coming, and we're gonna knock their socks off." The facility still has some cosmetic changes ahead. With $800,000 still to be sought, the center needs to complete its proposed parking lot, plus install more bleachers to increase seating capacity from their current 900 to nearly 2,000.
The new ice center will also benefit Utah State University.
"It's something we've waited for for a long time," said Utah State University hockey coach Jerry Crossley. "It kind of gives them a home." USU hockey teams have traveled to to the Ogden Ice Sheet for daily practices and games since the team's formation in 1994. Now athletes and spectators can travel just four miles from campus to the ice center in North Logan.
Practice schedules for foreign teams
George S. Eccles Ice Center, 2825 N. 200 East, North Logan, 1-435-787-2288. French figure skating exhibition Feb. 4, 7 p.m. $40. Switzerland versus Slovakia Men's Hockey Exhibition Feb. 5, 6 p.m. $40. Chinese short-track speed-skaters practice Jan. 10-19, 5-7 p.m., free. French, Russian and Swiss practices, Jan. 28-Feb. 17, free. For more detail on times, call 1-435-797-0305.