(Columbia) Jan. 12, 2006 - They're called the Columbia Inferno, for now. But soon, Columbia's hockey team will play home games closer to Pine Ridge.
The Inferno's new home, a $30 million, 6,500 seat arena, will be built near Columbia Metro Airport.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna says, "This is a linchpin for our league in terms of our geography here in the Carolinas and Georgia. So we're excited about it. And it speaks very well for the future of AA hockey, certainly in this area."
The move means Columbia's only pro sports franchise will become Lexington County's first pro sports franchise. Inferno owner Dr. Ezra Riber thinks it will work out well, "It's a beautiful fit. Number one, it's the fastest growing county in the state of South Carolina. While Columbia has been growing for a long time, it's got its limits."
And Senator Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) is also happy with the location change, "They may have gotten our Farmers Market, but we got the Infernos."
The county contributes land for the project totaling 25 acres near Old Dunbar and Creekside Roads. The team's owners pick up the cost of the arena.
The Inferno's current home has never been ideal for players or fans. The Carolina Coliseum had to be heavily modified to squeeze in the ice, but it's smaller than regulation size. Fans have a hard time seeing action in corners and along the boards. Even the scoreboard is a problem. It's small, and no instant replay.
Rick Woodard is General Manager of the Inferno, "It is about the fans and that's the whole purpose of this. They will have a better experience because there won't be any seat in the house that will have any sight obstruction whatsoever. So no matter where you sit, you'll see it in a fantastic way."
The coliseum may not be around much longer, as USC builds its new research campus. Mayor Bob Coble says the move keeps hockey in the Midlands, and proves not every attraction has to be in Columbia, "It's got to be to be a two-way street. If we view everything in Columbia as if it can only benefit us, and everybody has to help pay for it, we will never succeed."
The new arena will also be used for concerts and other events besides hockey. The Inferno face off in their new home in 2007.
The new arena is also expected to generate 140 jobs in Lexington County.
Reported by Jack Kuenzie