Professional hockey is coming back to the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
The Indiana State Fair Commission announced Monday that it signed a deal with Indiana Hockey Club LLC, an ECHL expansion franchise that will become an anchor tenant for the fairgrounds’ newly renovated coliseum. It will begin playing its home games there in October 2014.
The deal calls for the team to house its administrative offices at the fairgrounds. Financial terms were not immediately available.
In April, IBJ reported that fairgrounds officials were trying to lure a team from the ECHL—formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League—and had identified a potential local ownership group. The ECHL is one of two leagues, along with the American Hockey League, affiliated with the National Hockey League.
Carmel businessman Jim Hallett, the CEO of KAR Auction Services, is chairman of Indiana Hockey Club LLC. He formerly was an owner of the Indianapolis Ice franchise that played in the Central Hockey League.
Sources with knowledge of the new team said the franchise will be called the Indianapolis Fuel.
“Professional hockey is back in Indy and we can’t wait to drop the puck,” Hallett said in a prepared statement Monday. “We have a great partnership with the Indiana State Fair Commission and a beautiful new arena that will be one of the premier hockey venues in the Midwest. We’ll offer affordable family fun and a competitive brand of hockey that hasn’t been seen here since the Indianapolis [International Hockey League] team that played in Market Square Arena in the 1990s."
The coliseum complex is in the final months of a $63 million renovation that will modernize the arena with new lighting, a two-tiered seating bowl and a digital overhead scoreboard. It will accommodate about 6,200 fans for hockey and is scheduled to reopen in April 2014.
“This deal makes perfect sense for us, and we’re happy to have it done before the building opens next spring,” fair commission Chairman Andre Lacy said in a prepared statement. “I remember going to Capitals games in the coliseum as a boy eager for a puck to come my way, so bringing pro hockey back to the fairgrounds is especially gratifying to me personally.”
The fairgrounds has been a local hockey hub since 1939 when the coliseum first opened and the Indianapolis Capitals began the first of 13 seasons in the International American Hockey League. The building subsequently housed the Indianapolis Chiefs, Racers, Checkers and Ice for various durations in a variety of professional leagues from 1955 through 2004.
The Indiana Ice, an amateur team playing in the United States Hockey League, called the coliseum home from 2004 through 2012 when the renovation began, but decided not to return to the coliseum after the renovation is completed.
The Ice, owned by Indianapolis-area resident Paul Skjodt, now play most of their games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That decision eventually led the commission to Hallett and the ECHL. Hockey’s premier “AA” league, the ECHL offers Ft. Wayne as a natural regional rival
Overall, it currently has 22 teams located throughout the country., including Evansville, Cincinnati and Toledo. More than 500 players from the ECHL have gone on to play in the NHL since1988.
“Indianapolis has an international reputation as a great sports town, and we’re confident it will once again be a great hockey town,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said in a statement. “With an exceptional ownership group led by Jim Hallett, a brand new venue and a proud hockey tradition, we couldn’t be happier to expand the ECHL to Central Indiana.”
The hockey club is the second team to announce a deal to play in the renovated coliseum. Earlier this year, the IUPUI Jaguars announced a five-year agreement to play men’s home games and selected women’s basketball games in the arena.
The hockey team plans press conference Tuesday at 11 a.m. to disclose a lottery process for buying season tickets.