Hertz Arena Gaining Fame As One Of The Nation’s Best Event Venues


By Craig Handel

Jason Aldean and openers at Hertz arena in Ft. Myers

Jason Aldean and openers at Hertz arena in Ft. Myers, Florida Oct. 28, 2021. Photo: Heidi Schumann.


In the nearly 25 years that Hertz Arena has been around, many still associate it with the Florida Everblades. That’s understandable. Of the approximate 120 events a year, about one-third of those are hockey games played by the two-time Kelly Cup champions who are battling for a third title as this story goes to press.

“We knew there were other events we wanted to do,” said Blades General Manager Craig Brush, but at first he wasn’t sure exactly what those would be.

From the start, the arena showed what kind of talent it could bring when Michael Flatley arrived in November of 1998 with a show called “Riverdance.” Flatley has gone on to perform before 60 million people in 60 countries.

Since then, there have been monster truck shows, roller hockey tournaments, college hockey tournaments, various professional wrestling events, the Harlem Globetrotters — and Elton John concerts.

“That set the stage for putting on wonderful shows,” Brush said.

Today, Hertz Arena is known for hosting a variety of concerts, ice shows, college basketball tournaments and graduations, to name just a few of its many events.

With nasty weather coming to this area the last quarter century, Hertz Arena also has become a hurricane shelter. The two recreation rinks are home to learn-to-skate programs, youth hockey and international-caliber figure skating programs.

Tailgate Party at Hertz

Tailgate Party at Hertz

Players who have skated in the arena’s youth hockey programs have been drafted by NHL teams while figure skaters have advanced to Disney on Ice shows. The current figure-skating coach has coached Olympic champions.

“Our strategy for next year is to continue to focus on bringing more concerts and more top-name talent to the Hertz Arena,” said arena General Manager Scott Bryant. “These include kids shows, country concerts, Latin concerts, religious concerts and others.”


Big-Name Concerts

The list of known entertainers is a long one, including Elton John, Barry Manilow, Tom Petty, Keith Urban, ZZ Top, Hank Williams Jr., Marc Anthony, Cher, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton, New Kids On The Block, Luke Bryan and Salt N Peppa. There also have been comedians like Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Jeff Dunham, Jim Gaffigan and John Mulaney.

When Jerri and Dave Hoffmann bought the arena and the Everblades in August of 2019, they re-committed to providing world-class entertainment. Facilities improvements have included updating signage and the Hertz #1 Club while adding new paint, lighting, furniture and chairs in the entertainers’ rooms.

“The thing we have to remember is that this is the entertainers’ home for as long as they’re here,” Assistant General Manager Randy Klinck said. “In the old days, some artists would want a pet monkey or elephant in their riders on contracts. That’s pretty much gone. Artists are pretty realistic and understand that the more money spent on those types of things, the less that goes in their pockets.”

While Klinck said they don’t like to pass up on events that may never come again, they also have to be sensitive to their stagehands who sometimes work 24-hour days when there are back-to-back events.

Recently, the Academy of Country Music Awards nominated Hertz Arena for “Arena of the Year.”

“The last two years bear out that promoters who rent the arena are having a good experience,” Bryant said. “Otherwise, they would not come back.”       

Because Southwest Florida has grown and become more diverse since its opening, there’s more entertainment varieties.

“The perception is that this is a retirement community, but that’s not the case anymore,” Klinck said. “We’re really growing and evolving to where we have more non-retirement events. Hertz relocating its corporate offices also brought a lot of new families, which allows to have different events. The market supports what we can do.”


Figure Skating Fame

Marina Zoueva, a high-level Russian skater in the late 1970s, relocated her International Skating Academy to Hertz Arena in 2019. Zoueva’s past students include Olympic Gold Medal winners Ekaterina Gordeeva, Sergei Grinkow, Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Zoueva runs the academy with Johnny Johns, a former national champion. They coach pairs skating, ice dance and free skating while coaching skaters from Ukraine as well as the United States.

In addition, Isabella Gamez, who started at Hertz Arena in the learn-to-skate and figure skating programs, has returned to Southwest Florida and is part of a figure-skating team representing the Philippines, according to Kandis Hawkins, the figure skating and learn-to-skate director. Hawkins said Tarah Kayne, a 2016 national champion, also learned to skate at the arena, and a number of other locally trained skaters have joined “Disney on Ice.” 


Youth Hockey & Skating

Gavin Brindley and Seamus Casey

Gavin Brindley and Seamus Casey

When Karl Masnjak started youth hockey at the arena 25 years ago, he wondered how he’d compete with the traditional soccer, basketball and football programs in the area.

Turns out, he had nothing to worry about.

Close to 400 students every eight weeks sign up for learn-to-skate programs. Later, they can join the youth hockey program or figure-skating club. The figure-skating club has between 125 to 150 students while youth hockey has about 275 participants in leagues ranging from 6-and-under to 18-and-under. There are 14 travel teams.

“I have a parent I coached in Junior Everblades,” Masnjak said. “It makes me feel old when I say this.”

A number of those players have gone on to college and professional hockey. One promising youth hockey player, Jeff Heuermann, became an NFL player.

Last year, Seamus Casey became a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League. This year, Gavin Brindley could be a first-round NHL pick.

“In any part of the country, it’s almost unheard of to have first- and second-round picks in back-to-back years,” Klinck said. “But hockey, in general, is growing in a lot of non-traditional markets.


Rec Leagues & Rink Parties

People in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond take part in recreational hockey leagues at Hertz Arena. FGCU’s club hockey program also competes there.

Those who want to enjoy a tailgate party have opportunities to do so at Blades games. Birthday party options include a suite at an Everblades game or using one of the recreational ice rinks.

And there are a variety of meetings, seminars and conferences held in the Olde Florida Room.

Expect some new events to come in 2024, Klinck said.

“We try hard to diversify our calendar as much as possible,” he said. “A lot depends on promoters, artists and agents believing in our market, that we show well and sell better than another venue. Different genres have done well in this market — like Fort Rock, Nest Fest and Eagle Palooza — and it shows our location is a good one.”

Hertz Arena 2 - Vito Palmisano

Hertz Arena 2 – Vito Palmisano

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