If everything goes according to plan, the puck will drop in War Memorial Auditorium in summer 2022. Work has now started on a major remodeling and redevelopment of Broward County’s oldest public event venue. Funded by the Florida Panthers NHL team, the public-private project will see War Memorial reinvented as a space with four sheets of ice – two for a Panthers’ practice facility and two for public skating – as well as a new, ballroom-style music venue with a capacity of nearly 4,000 in the main auditorium. The ice skating facility will be something new for Fort Lauderdale; in all of Broward County, there are only three, including the Panthers’ current training facility in Coral Springs. Today if Fort Lauderdale residents want to join a hockey team, learn figure skating or just go for a skate, their options are Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines or Lighthouse Point.
The project will also include a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating as well as new and upgraded community fitness and recreation spaces. The Florida Panthers Foundation’s new, Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County-partnered Youth Hockey Scholarships program will also be based at the facility.
“Were super excited about the project,” Panthers president and CEO Matthew Caldwell says. “It’s one of these things that’s taken on a life of its own.
“We see this as more of a community hub for sports and entertainment. It’s really a central meeting location. It’s hopefully going to be a center of activity for the area.”
For concerts, the Panthers will partner with live entertainment giant Live Nation Entertainment, which also partners with the Panthers for concerts in the BB&T Center, Caldwell says. The new venue should do well, he says, thanks to its size – larger than the Broward Center, smaller than the arena.
The rinks will host various kids and adult hockey programs, as well as figure skating and public skating for the community. The Panthers’ practice rink will also feature stadium seating that will be open to as many as 1,000 fans during public practices and training camps.
The project also holds special resonance for the Panthers, Caldwell says, since as the name indicates, the facility was dedicated to fallen veterans. Many members of Panthers leadership, including Caldwell and team owner Vincent Viola, are military veterans.
When War Memorial first opened in 1950, it was the only large public event space in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County; early on in its history, it hosted everything from opera to professional wrestling. However, as more venues opened in the following decades, the auditorium got less and less use.
This project is happening alongside a major remodel to neighboring Parker Playhouse, as well as several improvement projects happening in Holiday Park.
“War Memorial Auditorium has served as a pillar in our Fort Lauderdale community for more than 70 years, and its revitalization will bring new life to an important and iconic social hub,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said in a statement. “This project will serve as an example of an innovative public-private partnership and will create a unique space for our residents to safely gather with each other once again. The project, coupled with the renovation of Parker Playhouse and planned Holiday Park improvement projects, will change the landscape of our city’s ‘Central Park’ and become a true centerpiece of our city. As a city, we are beyond excited to welcome the Florida Panthers and excited to play a part in their success and in the growth of hockey and figure skating in our community.”
For Caldwell, it’s also a happy coincidence that all this is happening at a time when the young, talented Panthers are playing some of their best hockey in years.
“I wish we said we planned it this way, but it feels like it’s all coming together,” he says. “It’s nice to combine the winning with a nice project like this.”