To Winnebago County Board: Slow down push for MetroCentre renovations, help NAT

Editor’s note: The following remarks were delivered by the Editor & Publisher of The Rock River Times Frank Schier before the Winnebago County Board during the Board’s Thursday, Dec. 28 meeting. The County Board voted 14-11 to approve funding for proposed MetroCentre renovations, but only if the City of Rockford and the MetroCentre Authority agree to NOT purchase an American Hockey League franchise. More about this issue will be published in the next issue of The Rock River Times.

Mr. Chairman, county board members, and all the good citizens who are concerned enough about their county to be here tonight, good evening. I’m Frank Schier, the editor & publisher of The Rock River Times, your local weekly newspaper.

With a comparative concern about the New American Theater, I am very concerned that we are going to see history repeat itself in your decision concerning the funding of the MetroCentre renovations and the planned acquisition of a hockey team. Due to the Rockford City Council’s decision this week, renovations and the new team seem to be linked. I stress, seemed to be linked. I’d like you, the Winnebago County Board, to say, “Hold your hockey pucks! Let’s slow down, take a good look at the business plan, and put this decision on ice for a moment.” Please say that. A little time and good planning never hurt anything.

Please table this vote and ask the city and the MetroCentre Authority a few questions.

Why should we give you $20 million considering the following?

1. The MetroCentre has lost every event that used to be at Davis Park, except for the Fourth of July, Stars & Guitars and On The Waterfront.

2. The MetroCentre no longer manages the Coronado Theatre. Why?

3. Despite the fact that the financial burden of the previous two points are removed, which relieved the demand on your city subsidy of over $900,000 per year, you said that if the renovation was not approved, you’d present a five-year shut down plan. I personally found that threat akin to blackmail, and found it nonsensical and offensive. How about you?

4. Why can’t you buy 20 gallons of paint and paint your bathroom floors? Why can’t you keep your bathrooms clean?

5. Why do we have an out-of-town firm running our concessions? How much do they make and how much do we make every year off of concessions? Why do we allow that firm to mine Rockford money and haul it off? Can’t you do the job yourselves? Do you think Rockford businesses and Rockford job seekers would love to have a crack at the concessions?

6. Considering the history lesson provided by the city’s and the MetroCentre’s failure with the Coronado, Davis Park, LeBistro and the Main Event, why should we think you can run a hockey team?

7. If you kick the hometown IceHogs to the curb, don’t you think they’ll compete with you in a new venue?

That brings us to the New American Theater. Richard Raether and most of the founding actors of NAT started a the Artists’ Ensemble after Raether was kicked to the curb. That competition plays heavily in the tragic closing of the playhouse that was part of the soul that brought our downtown out of the boarded-up 1980s. Just like playgoers, there’s a limited number of hockey-goers in our market. Have all the teams that switched leagues in other cities lost money? If that market share is split, I, for one, do not think the new team, just like the new NAT, will make it. Rockford is a loyal community.

Please remember that Rockford proper—and its downtown—is part of Winnebago County. While it is very encouraging to see the recent intergovernmental agreements between the city and county, I hope you also both agree to help NAT.

A theater is a quality of life issue for any city center. A vacant NAT is a tremendous blow to tourism, to attracting new residents and businesses, to the River District organization and business, and to our efforts to establish the Cultural Corridor.

Please pitch in and help NAT, and set aside money in your budget for the arts in general every year. If we can spend millions on a jail, we can certainly spend money on the arts. They are just as important as sports, and both truly stand for public health and safety. Thank you.

From the Jan. 3-9, 2007, issue

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