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Delaware Thunder shoot to build new Dover arena

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Delaware Thunder

Delaware Thunder hockey team will build the Dover Civic Arena close to the Kent County DE Turf Complex, growing Delaware’s sports tourism. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE THUNDER

DOVER – After losing its lease at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, the Delaware Thunder hockey team has big dreams of creating a new home in central Delaware. But there’s a lot of work to do before the idea of a Dover Civic Arena comes to fruition.

“The Thunder is the genesis of the drive,” team President and CEO Charles Pens Sr. said. “And the city of Dover is the conduit.”

The city is open to renting or leasing about 7 acres of undeveloped land at Schutte Park off Hazlettville Road for the team to build the “Dover Civic Arena,” City Manager Dave Hugg said. The arrangement would likely be akin to that between Kent County and DE Turf, where a long-term, low-cost lease off Route 1 helped develop athletic fields. But what exactly will be stipulated in that agreement and included in the construction of the arena remains to be seen.

“This is going to be a great facility to have people all over the state and the Delmarva region be utilizing,” Pens said, noting that the plan will be for the arena to be utilized by other sporting events and the public at-large.

Without a place to skate, the Delaware Thunder has gone dormant for at least two seasons, Pens said. Over 4,500 people signed an online petition to save the Delaware Thunder earlier this year in an effort to help the team renew its lease at the Centre Ice Arena. The virtual support did not change the outcome at Harrington, and Pens said current players have entered into a dispersal draft and will likely play for other teams while the Thunder works on building a new home.

The Delaware Thunder is a member of the Federal Prospects Hockey League, a professional minor league organization, and had been skating and leasing rink space in Harrington since its first season in 2019, Pens said. It is unclear exactly why the Delaware State Fairgrounds didn’t renew the team’s lease. General Manager Danny Aguilar could not be reached for comment.

While Pens said he hopes to see the team in its new home in the next two years, city officials said there are no formal plans in place yet. 

“I’m an ambitious guy,” Pens said of his proposed timeline.

He said he and team officials are now working to form a nonprofit and a formal board of directors, investment opportunities, corporate partners and getting started on building design.

Pens estimated the project will cost $10 million to $15 million. The idea is not only to include a skating rink venue for the Delaware Thunder and its thousands of fans, but also spaces for other businesses such as a restaurant or pub, exercise facility, a medical office, meeting space and more.

“Dover’s been talking about doing something like this for years,” Pens said.

Hugg said the city has asked Pens and his partners for a business plan in order to move forward. He said the city also is exploring options for potentially helping the effort with financing, by serving as a conduit for low-interest loans for the project.

“It’s super early [in the process], but we are moving forward,” Hugg said. “It’s a great idea. I think it’d be a real asset to the city. We need ice in Kent County.”

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