The city is considering a $20 million deal that poses major changes for the MetroCentre and one of its most valuable tenants, the Rockford IceHogs. If approved, owners of the complex would buy the United Hockey League's IceHogs and promise an expensive face lift for the complex. But the IceHogs' current owners say the deal leaves them feeling left out.
"I feel like we're being fired," says IceHogs co-owner Dr. Kris Tumilowicz.
Tumilowicz and his business partner Craig Drecktrah say they too want to see a better home for their IceHogs.
"We've been trying to get improvements to the MetroCentre for years. We've been trying to get into a new lease for years," Drecktrah says.
But recent reports say the city is looking to combine the operations of the IceHogs and the MetroCentre. The deal would turn the team into the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks as early as next year, something Tumilowicz says is not financially feasible.
"We know that it just can't be done in Rockford, Illinois. We can't raise ticket prices enough to help with that," Tumilowicz says.
The city also wants to start a $20 million renovation of both the exterior and interior of the arena. Those changes include adding luxury suites, concessions, and an expanded press area.
"Its something that everyone kind of knows is long overdue but is very exciting for the city," says Mike Peck, the IceHogs' Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.
But Peck says the structure won't be the only thing that will improve.
"All the prospects for the Chicago Blackhawks would be in Rockford. A lot of their high draft picks, a lot of the guys they're trying to nurture to the NHL," Peck says.
But while the changes might make for a better fan experience, the Hogs' current owners are bittersweet about the whole idea.
"We've been patiently waiting for renovations for many years and it seems like an out of towner now is going to help precipitate that," Tumilowicz says.
"We were told the only way the renovations would get done is if the IceHogs became an AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks," Drecktrah adds.
There is still a long way to go before any of this becomes official. City aldermen and county board members have to vote on whether or not to borrow the money through the sale of bonds over 20 years.
Also, 23 News talked to a Blackhawks spokesman by phone earlier this afternoon about the possible switch in AHL affiliates. He tells us only that the team is still under contract with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals. The ownership group would need to pay a $3 million franchise fee before officially entering the American Hockey League.
Winnebago County Board chairman Scott Christiansen tells us a press conference will be held tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 to discuss the matter further. Tomorrow's agenda includes renovation details and information on a new sports franchise.