International sports stars to work with locals and traveling Olympic hopefuls
By PENNY FLETCHER
GIBSONTON — Sleepy gravel back roads with names like Hermit Hollow Lane and Breezy Creek Road extend off Bullfrog Creek Road just North of Vance Vogel Park.
Driving between Old Big Bend and Symmes roads on Bullfrog Creek, parallel to Interstate 75, it’s hard to imagine a project drawing world-wide attention is focused there.
But it is.
In fact, Jakub Pilecky, Austrian Olympian hockey player, and Stanislav “Stan” Neckar, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, have been enlisted to coach and plan the three ice rinks which are part of the project.
Svetlana Boginskaya, a three-time Olympic Champion, has promised to be present for girl’s gymnastics competitions there.
These are just three of the many internationally-known figures that will be found at Freedom Harbor, 12398 Bullfrog Creek Road, after its opening.
The project has the backing of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s Jason Aughey, and the Suncoast Sports Festival, which will be moved to Gibsonton from the Florida Fairgrounds once the facility is built.
More than 1,000 new jobs will be created and many things for locals — as well as tourists — will be housed there.
First announced in The Observer News April 17, 2008, at that time this plot was called the Big Bend Project and its developer, Rich Mozdzer, was also planning a project called The Village at Riverview.
At that time, the sports theme was not included, although a waterfront restaurant, timeshares and some of the other amenities that now play a part were announced.
Since then, because of the addition of sports and specialized sports medicine, the Village at Riverview is no longer part of Mozder’s plan and what was first referred to as “the Big Bend Project” is now called Freedom Harbor. The location has also been moved from the Alafia River to Bullfrog Creek.
When completed, the 123-acre multi-phase development will have a sportsplex; a 50,000-square foot medical facility; an Olympic-size swimming pool; both assisted and independent living apartments; townhouses; time shares; sports medicine experts; and sports training of all kinds.
Key in the plans is a five-story centrally-located building that will include an ice-rink that can be covered with a wood floor in the center of a 4,000-seat auditorium; a 350-person banquet hall; a 400-meter track over the lake; indoor and outdoor tennis courts; and an academy for students who travel, training in sports competitions, so they can keep up their studies.
“This is the first ‘over water’ track in the country,” Mozdzer said, as he pointed out its location on the current site plan. “For one thing, it will be a beautiful location. But the way we got the idea was that we were running out of room on the property to build everything we’re planning.”
An 8,500-square-foot studio for gymnastics, and two (other than the one mentioned previously) ice skating rinks; one geared to pros and the other to the public also show on the current plan.
When asked how such a large project has been kept so low-key all through its planning stages, developer Rich Mozdzer said the five partners closed on the property in February but still have not locked in a final site-plan so they have not gone to the county for site-plan approvals.
“We are still in the design phase so there isn’t any sense in asking for a site plan approval that will be changed when someone else comes on board,” Mozdzer said.
At this time, for instance, the partners are working with three different tennis pros. “The people who come on board influence how certain things connected with their area of expertise are done,” Mozdzer explained.
Dr. Frank Sirchia got on board early. He’s been in practice locally for 16 years, mostly at the Family Medical Center in Riverview.
“Naturally, we’ll want the best specialists in sports medicine,” Sirchia said. “But we want to attract other specialists too. And putting the medical facility adjacent to the fitness center (and pool) will aid people who need therapy.”
The two explained that there are 20 separate components of the project.
“There will be everything from a ‘Members Only’ club to beautiful settings for weddings, banquets and meetings to rock climbing and zip lining,” Mozdzer said. Zip lining for older children and adults is like what parents do when they attach a baby-seat on a wire between trees and give it a push; only these seats will be high above water and go really, really fast, Modzder said.
“This is a complete cathedral of sports,” Sircha said as we looked at the design of the main building. Plans show glass walls that will allow people to watch what’s going on in various sports arenas while shopping or enjoying a meal. There will also be places where parents can sit and eat or have drinks and watch their kids at play.
One of the attractions for children will be a Snow Village, adjacent to a dining area, visible through glass. New snow will be made every day and there will be falling snow and a small Alpine slide.
“Melting the old snow and making new every day is a health issue,” Mozdzer said. “But it can be done. Just think how many native Floridians have never even seen snow. Making snow isn’t anything new. They do it at ski resorts all the time.”
The price tag on the total project is about $150 million and is not being financed through traditional means.
“A lot depends on the internationally-known people we get to come on board,” Mozdzer said. Several big names are currently discussing taking part, but because negotiations are in progress, it was agreed they would not be named in this story.
Some negotiations however have already been completed.
Group RCI, based in Orlando, a division of Wyndham Worldwide which operates vacation exchanges and rentals, has partnered for timeshares, according to correspondence signed by RCI’s Vice President, Todd Menendez.
“Once the final phases of design are completed, we’ll apply for a modification of our existing uses,” Mozdzer said. “Besides the tourist dollars this will bring in, this will be a benefit to local residents, because they’ll have access to things they don’t have now.”
Area schools without pools could have swim teams, and even hockey teams and figure skating clubs, he said.
And of course, there will be shopping. Dozens of kiosks will cater to sports fans, and provide items specific to participants in each sport. Most of these will be in the main 30,000-square-foot ground-floor lobby.
Plans to break ground by the middle of 2011 depend on who actually locks in the construction.
At this time, the partners – Mozdzer, Sirchia, Jakub Pilecky, Michael Nemec and Debbie Reynolds (not the movie star)– are working with many different companies to find the most environmentally-friendly for each phase of the project.
“For instance, we’re not clearing anything. The 70-acre lake is already there. We’re not cutting any oaks or trees. We plan nature trails. But not only that, we’re dealing with two companies, one in Asia and another in Europe, who make solar panels and want to showcase their work in this project.”
Mozdzer says one example of innovative ideas is reusing energy generated by one aspect of the project and using it to power other aspects. “Like capturing the energy used for cooling the ice and transferring it to heating the pool. This capability is available now,” he said.
Once built, the complex will be managed by Sports Facility Advisory of Clearwater.
For more information check out www.FreedomHarborlive.com.