Rockford entertainment center and home to Ice Hogs undergoing major renovations

By Corina Curry


ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR


ROCKFORD — When the dust finally settles at the MetroCentre next summer, a sparkling new glass-enclosed entrance will grace the building’s southwest corner, directly across the street from Jamie Christiansen and Michael Verace’s new eatery, Chestnut Street Bar and Grill.


But before Christiansen and Verace get to that point, they and the rest of downtown will have to put up with a dark MetroCentre, so no foot traffic from events, and the side effects of a $20 million renovation — construction noise, supply and debris hauling and intermittent lane closures on surrounding roads.


Later this week, city, county and MetroCentre leaders will kick off the project with a ceremony marking the beginning of a new era for the 26-year-old building.


Next week, the jackhammers will follow. Fourteen hundred seats already have been removed from demolition areas. They’ll go into storage and serve as replacement seats in the future.


The Rock River Raptors will play the final home games of their regular season Saturday and June 30 at the MetroCentre. The team may play one or more playoff games at the arena, too, in July, but construction should be under way by then.


Then it will be lights out until Nov. 2, the tentative date for the first home hockey game of the center’s new American Hockey League Rockford IceHogs.


But only half of the renovation — most of it interior — will be done at that time. The rest, including the new entrance and the exterior paint job, won’t be finished until June of next year, meaning sporting events and concerts will have to co-exist with remodeling for at least eight months.


According to last year’s financial reports, the closure will cost Centre Events an estimated $158,000 in lost revenue.


Rent from a five weekend-long Jehovah Witness convention brought in $17,600. Lippizaner Stallions and Barney shows in September generated $23,500. Whether those events return next summer or are booked for another time later in the year remains to be seen.


Hockey games, a comedian, a country music concert and a WWE wrestling event in October, which more resembles a typical month’s bookings, made roughly $117,000 for Centre Events.


Officials hope to offset the lost revenue by not filling vacant full-time positions and living lean by not buying supplies and running utilities like they’d have to if they were hosting events.


“The only month that’s going to hurt us is October,” said Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson. “That’s typically when we start up hockey and have a couple shows. Summer’s traditionally a time to go light, get things done, book shows for the fall and winter.”


No more ‘Oh great. This place.’


The new multilevel, atrium-style entrance and the $20 million commitment to renovate the aging MetroCentre played a major role in the location and timing of Chestnut Street’s opening two weeks ago.


And while a year’s worth of construction and all of its inconveniences may try people’s patience, Christiansen thinks the new view from his outdoor patio and the increased foot traffic will make the next 12 months bearable.


“Obviously, there’s going to be work going on, and they’ll have to close a lane of traffic here and there,” Christiansen said. “But when it opens up again we anticipate a lot of people coming downtown to see the new arena and see what else downtown has to offer. Having that new entrance right across the street — it can’t hurt.”


Christiansen said summertime events at Davis Park, just down the street from the MetroCentre, should help fill in the gaps.


“There’s going to be (On the) Waterfront and the Stars & Guitars concerts,” he said. “In the end, I think the renovation is going to be a catalyst to get people coming downtown.”


Brian Luther, who books shows for both the MetroCentre and Davis Park as Centre Events’ assistant general manager, hopes the lure of a new arena will go beyond sports fans and show-goers. New dressing rooms and other amenities to better support behind-the-scenes efforts of event production are creating a buzz in the industry.


“Agents and promoters are excited. They’re asking questions,” Luther said. “The dollar amount is still the most important thing at the end of the day. But they’re going to have a better experience here. Right now, the bus opens up and the tour manager says ‘Oh, great. This place.’ They won’t be saying that anymore.”


- Still Seeking Naming Sponsor -


Small changes have already been made to the massive face-lift announced in November 2006.


The entryway was going to be three-story, but heating and HVAC regulations prompted officials to go from three stories to two, with an open-air deck as the third floor.


The box office on the building’s northeast corner will become retail space that leaders hope to use to secure naming rights for the new facility.


And the pursuit of a business to buy naming rights to the MetroCentre continues.


Pearson said he’s negotiating with two businesses and is speaking with others who are interested. He hopes to get a contract for $400,000 to $600,000 a year depending on what the sponsor wants, such as the retail space and signage.


Inside the arena, seats will come in all shapes and forms from general admission to luxury suites — all of which should be ready, with the exception of some luxury suites, by this fall. An arena-side bar and party deck will grace the bowl’s southeast corner. A new state-of-the art videoboard will hang center court.


A new press box and one luxury suite will be ready in the fall. The remaining luxury suites will be completed by June 2008, Pearson said.


Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at 815-987-1395 or ccurry@rrstar.com.