MetroCentre bonds stall in committee

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116482312714919.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Centre Events Board Chairman Gary Marzorati unveils the proposed MetroCentre renovations at a County Board Economic Development meeting Nov. 15.’);

The Rockford City Council’s Planning and Development Committee deadlocked Nov. 27 on the authorization to issue up to $23 million in Alternative Revenue Bonds for MetroCentre renovations. The committee debated the harm versus the rush of moving forward just one week after the issue first came before them.

“I think the record needs to show attitudes here, and concerns,” argued 10th Ward Ald. Frank Beach (R) during the meeting. He and Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) tied the vote at 2-2, with Ald. Dan Conness (D-14) and Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) voting to move the issue ahead to the full council.

Beach said he wouldn’t support the authorization without an intergovernmental agreement that addressed the details.

“The reason why it wasn’t passed a week ago is because there were some details that were not put in place,” Beach said. “It was our understanding that they were going to be bringing back an intergovernmental agreement that would spell out the concerns. More specifically about the funding and the obligation of the county to this whole process over 20 years.”

Although the County Board had since pledged to get onboard for 20 years, Beach would rather wait to be presented with the intergovernmental agreement before moving forward with the issuance of bonds. Beach sees no harm in waiting a week.

Ald. Conness, on the other hand, is worried delaying the process could send the wrong message to the Chicago Blackhawks, who are in negotiations with Centre Events to bring their minor league farm team to Rockford from Norfolk, Va. Conness argued there would be plenty of time to turn back if questions went unanswered.

“It all comes back to City Council. It all comes back to committee. So, we’re not committed to anything other than getting the wheels in motion to start the bond process,” Conness said. “There was no harm in starting it, and I just didn’t understand why we needed to delay.”

“I don’t think there’s a wrong message being sent,” Beach retorted. “The Blackhawks are a business. They do things in order. That’s right and proper for them. They shouldn’t criticize us for wanting to see the agreement.”

The City Council and County Board both unanimously approved memorandums of agreement for MetroCentre renovations Nov. 20 and 21, respectively. Neither memorandum made mention of ice hockey.

The County Board’s version of the memorandum obligates them to $20 million, whereas the City Council version reads, “up to $23 million.” The $3 million difference would be for the acquisition of an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise. Some worry that cost could be higher. City Attorney Ron Schultz said, however, the Blackhawks made assurances the franchise cost will not exceed $3 million.

No deal with the Blackhawks has been finalized.

The MetroCentre is in talks with current Rockford IceHogs owners Dr. Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drecktrah for the purchase of all rights to the IceHogs. The MetroCentre Authority wants to replace the United Hockey League ’Hogs with an AHL franchise, which would be necessary for the Blackhawks deal to go through.

The Planning and Development Committee hopes to have all the details worked out Dec. 4 and put the issue before the full City Council.

From the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2006, issue

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