MetroCentre Funding Deal Finalized

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

Rockford leaders approved a funding package for the MetroCentre Monday night, But the deal wasn't sealed until Thursday, when the MetroCentre board gave its stamp of approval.

Now that the deal is signed and sealed, MetroCentre leaders are hoping to start receiving funding this coming week. The first installment will be $800,000. The arena will use that to pay back local vendors, who they owe as much as half a million dollars.

Beyond the immediate cash, the funding deal guarantees a three-year, $3 million subsidy from the city. MetroCentre Interim G.M. Brian Luther says that's necessary in order to demonstrate long-term financial stability that will help secure gigs and attract corporate sponsors.

The arena's board also discussed Thursday how to spend $4 million coming from the state's capital plan. That can only be used for infrastructure improvements and Luther says there's plenty that needs to be updated and repaired. Board members want the work to go to local contractors.

Luther is also working to repair the MetroCentre's image. The arena has taken heat for taking more city dollars, when other organizations are struggling too.

"We're not taking money away from the library, or from other entities, says Luther. "The thing we have to remember is that funding source [the Redevelopment Fund] was set up exclusively for the MetroCentre to begin with and since it's grown and has supported many other things. What we have to do is get realigned with the original purpose of the Redevelopment Fund, so the MetroCentre is secure with its funding."

Despite the controversy, administrators report a 69 percent renewal rate for IceHogs season ticket holders. That's ahead of last year and way ahead of the league's average right now, at just 40 percent.

Metrocentre leaders still have to figure out where to cut $300,000 from their budget. Luther says all options are on the table, including layoffs. The funding deal also requires the arena explore private management and give the city more oversight.


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