MetroCentre needs fixing, IceHogs don’t

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116421696219943.jpg’, ”, ‘The Rockford Ice Hogs could play in a new league under new ownership next season.’);

One of the nice things about writing for a weekly paper is it gives me time to digest the sports news before I have to put my fingers to the keyboard. I’ve now had about five or six days to think about the most recent story involving the Rockford IceHogs and the Centre Events organization.

My initial response to the report that the IceHogs and their owners, Dr. Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drecktrah, may not be the hockey team that would be invited back to play at the “big orange box” next season was “What the @$%##, you’ve got to be kidding me!!” Everyone I talked with about the story had the same response. Well, guess what? After almost a week of mulling it over in my head, reading thousands of words in the Rockford, Chicago and Norfolk papers, and listening to thousands more on local talk radio discussing both sides of the issue, I am still left asking that same question

I doubt anyone who has been to the MetroCentre recently would disagree the place needs more than just a facelift. Most of the controversy surrounding that issue is the use of taxpayer dollars for the proposed $23 million renovation.

That’s merely a sidebar issue to the fact that the MetroCentre is looking to use some of that money to purchase an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise and do away with the IceHogs, as we currently know them. Granted, they want to keep the name and logo and some of the staff. But it seems they aren’t willing to pay what it’s actually worth. According to media reports, the offer is far less than the current market value. I, and dozens of others with whom I’ve spoken about this, think the whole thing is a real disservice to the current owners.

In a recent phone conversation with Dr. T, he said, “This is a very dynamic story, and the facts are changing every couple of hours!”

The following is the most recent statement delivered to me via e-mail at 2:13 p.m., Satuday, Nov. 18, from Mike Peck, director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Rockford IceHogs:

“Tri-Vision Sports and its predecessor have spent eight years building a professional hockey franchise in downtown Rockford. The viability of professional hockey in downtown Rockford was initially doubted politically and publicly. The franchise has been sustained through the significant and repeated capital investment by its owners, and the team is now, finally, both winning games and not losing money.

“The future of the Rockford IceHogs is a business matter between the hockey club, as a MetroCentre tenant, and Centre Events as its lessor. We ask that all other parties respect that business relationship and allow these two groups to negotiate an agreement without interference. The MetroCentre has given Tri-Vision a written proposal, and our attorneys have responded. Until that dialogue has completely concluded, we feel that further discussions, resolutions and votes at the city or county level with respect to an AHL/MetroCentre agreement should be tabled.

“By the same token, the IceHogs fully and strongly support the proposed MetroCentre improvements, and urge everyone to proceed with that plan. Regardless of whether the IceHogs remain a UHL team or become an AHL team, the proposed renovation is both necessary and overdue.

“Tri-Vision’s first hope would be to reach an agreement with the MetroCentre to extend the current lease on a long-term basis, and continue operating the club that has taken eight years to build. It has been a long road to make this team successful, and we are concerned about the idea of a fundamental restructuring of the organization and how it might affect Rockford hockey.

“Alternatively, if a long-term lease extension is not possible, then Tri-Vision would be willing to sell the entire team to the MetroCentre for its fair market value. In an effort to facilitate and expedite the AHL discussions, Tri-Vision would also be willing to sell its assets and logo (but not the UHL franchise) for two-thirds of the team’s fair market value, and permit them to be used with a new AHL team. Tri-Vision has been negotiating in good faith to achieve these goals with the MetroCentre; unfortunately, due to the technicalities and contingencies in the proposals we’ve exchanged thus far, we don’t feel that we are quite there yet.

“Aside from this statement of our general position and plans, we would like to take this opportunity to correct specific misstatements that were made publicly:

“1. In the Rockford Register Star on Nov. 18, ‘Officials from Centre Events’ were quoted to ‘say that they had a written deal in place for three months to purchase the IceHogs for $500,000, but that deal fell apart last weekend after the MetroCentre plan became public.’ That is absolutely false. There is not a written agreement in place to purchase the Rockford IceHogs for any amount, nor has there ever been. Two days ago, we were presented with a written purchase agreement for the first time, and we responded in writing the next morning. Prior to that, we have merely exchanged outlines, terms sheets and similar notes to facilitate our discussion. We consider the specific terms and conditions of the proposed agreement, including the purchase price, to be a private business matter until it has been finalized and signed by all parties.

“2. In that same article, Corey Pearson was also quoted to say that ‘at some point the Blackhawks began negotiating directly with Tumilowicz…though he did not know why talks ceased.’ That is also false. Pearson was closely involved in those discussions, and he was also closely involved in their cessation. The reason those talks ceased is that our ownership and management group determined that it would be financially impossible for us to launch and maintain an AHL team in downtown Rockford.

“3. Also in the article, it was suggested that we are holding the MetroCentre ‘hostage.’ We categorically reject that characterization. In fact, if such a situation is taking place, we are the hostage. We are struggling with the difficult choice of either having our current lease terminated or selling our team for a fraction of its value. We have been faced with this heavy-handed negotiation tactic for months, and we have recently involved legal counsel to scrutinize the proposed agreement terms, and help us better understand our options. At no point in this process was the IceHogs team ever listed for sale, and we do not want to sell it now. Despite that, we have been willing to cooperate and try finding a way to sell the team for a fair value, if that is what’s best for downtown Rockford and the hockey fans. Keep in mind, we all began the fall of 2005 in good faith negotiations for a new lease at the MetroCentre. It was Centre Events who raised the notion of a Blackhawks affiliation, and who urged that we put off the lease discussions to focus on the possibility of bringing an AHL franchise to Rockford—first with us as the owners, and later with them as the owners but using our logo and management team.

“4. Finally, the article quotes a Centre Events Board member to say ‘the bottom line is we don’t need the IceHogs.’ If that is an accurate quote, we are deeply disappointed to hear it. As stated above, we’ve spent a great deal of time and money to build a successful professional hockey club in downtown Rockford. Furthermore, we have been a reliable and profitable tenant for the MetroCentre over the years. Now that we’ve established a solid fan base for the team, we quite frankly think it is despicable to be treated this way in both private business discussions and publicly disparaging remarks. Ultimately, our position on all these matters can be summarized in three simple points: (1) We love professional hockey, and we are committed to doing whatever is best for the hockey fans of Rockford; (2) We fully support the MetroCentre renovation proposals and urge everyone to support them and all other efforts to make downtown Rockford a showcase community; and (3) We will do what is necessary to protect and preserve the Rockford IceHogs club and everything that our entire organization h

as done over the years to make this team successful.”

To me ,it all boils down to the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The MetroCentre needs fixing, the IceHogs and their owners don’t.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at

From the Nov. 22-28, 2006, issue

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