Renovating Riverside

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

Walk into Riverside Arena right now and you won’t see much there — the ice has been cleared for the season, leaving behind a large slab of concrete. The bleachers sit empty, and the concession booth unattended.

But in a few months, Craig Patrick hopes to see a completely remodeled and re-enthused space. Instead of barren concrete, freshly painted ice. Instead of an empty arena, stands full of fans, with a new party area to boot.

That is Patrick’s vision.

Patrick, of course, is the owner of Austin’s newest sports franchise, the Bruins, who will begin play in the North American Hockey League this September. Patrick, the former Boston Scientific employee who is fulfilling a life’s dream by owning a sports team, said he can’t wait for opening night at Riverside Arena.

“We’re going to be a good thing for the city of Austin,” Patrick told the Daily Herald in February. “It’s going to be special.”

Before then, however, plenty of work remains. Some of that will be done by the city as part of a $70,000 commitment. Among the city’s tasks are renovating old locker rooms and adding new locker space to the arena’s north end — work that hasn’t started — and turning an old sign and storage room into the team’s office — work which is nearly complete.

In fact, while walking around the arena Wednesday, Patrick said he was going to pick up some office furniture that afternoon for the empty room. With desks and chairs in place, he said the last step will be a final paint job on a few of the room’s walls. All told, he expects his general manager of business operations, Zac Headrick, to move in within the week. The coaching staff will likely join him by early August.

But what gets Patrick most excited are the bells and whistles he plans on bringing to the arena himself.

Atop that list is a 9.5-foot-by-13-foot jumbotron that will adorn Riverside’s north wall, above the “Home of The Austin Packers” sign currently in place.

Along with the new jumbotron, Patrick wants to bring in a light and sound system to complement the screen. Put it all together, and the owner said an Austin Bruins hockey game will have a definite stadium buzz.

“The biggest change people will notice, I think, is that you’ll be in this place that’s alive,” Patrick said.

A less technical change — but one that still has Patrick pumped — will come in the arena’s northeast corner, in sections N through L. That’s where bleachers will be pushed back against the wall, leaving an empty space that Patrick plans on covering with gold carpet — to match the Bruins’ black and gold color scheme — and transforming the area to a party spot. The owner said he primarily sees the space being used by businesses that want to hold corporate events.

“It’s a nice spot if you want to have a party,” Patrick said of the area, which will be a combination of standing room and bleacher seating that will hold 50. “It’ll be really cool.”

There are also other minute arrangements being planned by Patrick to make Riverside feel more like home. This includes NAHL banners, a Bruins paint job on the ice, a 12-foot long remote-controlled blimp that will drop prizes into the crowd and, of course, Bruiser the Bear — the team’s just-intimidating-enough mascot.

“He’ll be moderately ferocious,” Patrick said jokingly. “Ferocious, but appropriate.”

Later this summer, Bruiser will join team management and a Bruins bus during Austin’s Fourth of July Main Street parade. The owner said he is looking forward to getting in front of so many community members at once and introducing the Bruins to Austin. However, the summer won’t be all fun and games for the new franchise— the chore of actually filling the roster looms large.

To that end, several tryout camps have been scheduled at various sites. The first is set for May 21-23 in Nashville, where Patrick said he has a few coaching connections and hopes to cull some serious talent. From there, the next two camps — June 18-20 in Madison, Wisc, and July 9-11 in Duluth — are billed as invite-only, as the team will look to whittle down its roster. Patrick said the final camp will be July 23-25 in Hudson, Wisc. — where the owner calls home — which is when and where the final 25-man roster will be announced.

With all the commotion to come in the next few months, one would expect Patrick to be very busy and hectic these days. And he certainly has been — the owner quipped that he wished he “had more hours in the day” to get all the Bruins work done.

But Patrick is also noticeably excited — especially for that first puck to drop.

“I’m just a little kid in a candy store,” the owner said. “I can hardly wait to just turn the lights on and have fun.”