Ald. Dan Conness (D-14) presided over the meeting in Mayor Larry Morrisseys (I) absence. Morrissey was in Washington, D.C., to try to procure federal funds for Labor Day flood relief for Rockford residents.
Proposed MetroCentre improvements and the future of the Rockford IceHogs overshadowed all other issues at the Rockford City Council meeting.
During public participation, IceHogs President and General Manager Ryan Washatka addressed the council. Washatka said although team ownership and management support proposed MetroCentre renovations, they question why the catalyst appears to be the possibility of an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise replacing the current team. Washatka said if its necessary for IceHogs owners Kris Tumilowicz and Craig Drecktrah to sell the team, they should receive fair market value for the sale to Centre Events. Washatka added the team owners would much rather simply be granted a new lease to continue playing in the United Hockey League (UHL) at the MetroCentre.
Public participant Nancy Gdowski urged the council to see a detailed plan for MetroCentre improvements before moving ahead with the project. Gdowski pointed out the $912,000 subsidy the city gives the arena each year for operations comes from the taxpayers, whom she called shareholders. She added the additional $400,000 in forgiven property taxes each year is another burden taxpayers bear. Gdowski questioned why taxpayers only became aware of the MetroCentres plans a week ago, despite having been discussed behind closed doors for the past year. She asked why the city and county are not seeking private investors or shareholders, such as the Green Bay Packers have done. Gdowski added the city has not done its homework before voting on the proposal.
United Hockey League Commissioner, President and CEO Richard Brosal also addressed the council during public participation. Brosal argued against burdening taxpayers, instead saying improvements should come from private investors. Brosal also pointed out Peorias game attendance dropped by 700 fans per game since moving into the AHL. MetroCentre officials hope for a 20 percent increase in attendance to cover costs. Regarding the possibility of acquiring the Chicago Blackhawks farm team, Brosal said Chicago doesnt even support the Blackhawks, adding the Hawks organization will be the only ones to benefit from such a deal. Brosal said the affiliation would cost taxpayers $850,000 per year. He said the IceHogs are second highest in UHL attendance and have increased their revenue each of their eight years in the league. Brosal said the AHL deal is very risky and that the IceHogs should be allowed to continue playing in the UHL at the MetroCentre.
Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO David Preece spoke in support of MetroCentre upgrades and replacing the current IceHogs team with an AHL franchise. Preece said such growth is vital to the areas ability to be a visitor destination.
Also during public comments, Jay Graham pointed out Rockford has come a long way over the years in nurturing the sport of hockey. Graham said hes been an IceHogs season ticket holder since the teams first year, but that the opportunity to bring the AHL to Rockford should not be passed up. He agreed the MetroCentre is very much in need of improvements.
As a result of a five-person public comment limit, Ald. Conness told IceHogs coach Steve Martinson he wouldnt be allowed to speak. However, after protests from audience members, the council voted unanimously to suspend the rules and allow Martinson to be heard. Conness expressed concern about setting this precedent. Martinson took the opportunity to remind the council of his teams numerous accomplishments. Martinson cited some teams that have switched to the AHL have seen decreased attendance. He added the Edmonton Oilers cant seem to find any takers, out of 52 teams, to lease their minor league franchise for $1. Martinson said these teams declined the opportunity because they didnt want to add $1 million to the cost of their already successful hockey programs. He asked the council to consider why no other cities have taken over hockey teams, adding it wouldnt be ethical for the city to do.
Ald. Leonard Jacobson (D-6), whose ward was hard-hit by the Labor Day flooding, suggested it may have been advantageous to send an alderman along with the mayor and City Administrator Jim Ryan to Washington, D.C., to state the citys case for flood relief funds.
Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11), whose ward was also affected by the flooding, said he was glad the mayor had gone to Washington, D.C., but was disappointed hed learned of the trip in a newspaper. Holt added hed not received any reports regarding any progress resulting from the mayors visit. He said he would have appreciated if aldermen from the affected areas could have been kept in the loop.
Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) announced the Human Services Department is sponsoring a Thanksgiving meal at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at St. Patricks Church. She urged fellow aldermen to come help serve food.
Ald. John Beck (R-12) stated hed received calls from constituents who reported having problems getting through on the countys 9-1-1 system. Fire Chief D. William Robertson explained people are not put on-hold per se, but that callers enter a queue and are assisted in the order their calls are received. Beck expressed concern that people have to wait for assistance during an emergency.
Ald. Thompson said shed also received calls from constituents reporting similar problems when dialing 9-1-1.
After recent thefts of copper tubing and other valuable metals, Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) suggested the city establish a process to require identification from people recycling such metals. The resolution was forwarded to the Legal Department.
The council unanimously passed an amended resolution for the agreement of the MetroCentre Rehab Project. All language regarding the Blackhawks, IceHogs, UHL and AHL was removed, and the memorandum dealt solely with MetroCentre improvements. The county board is expected to vote on its end of the intergovernmental agreement Nov. 21. Log on to www.RockRiverTimes.com for a web exclusive update about the Winnebago County Board vote.
From the Nov. 22-28, 2006, issue