ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Rockford IceHogs will soon have new owners.
The City of Rockford currently owns the IceHogs. The team’s affiliation agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks is due to expire next year.
But now, the arrangement is changing.
The Blackhawks will be buying the IceHogs from the City for $11.8 million, and remain committed to keeping the franchise team in Rockford. The Blackhawks agreed to a 15-year lease agreement for the IceHogs to continue playing at the BMO in Rockford, so hockey will continue to be played here at least through 2036.
The RAVE board unanimously approved the sale on Wednesday.
“Not only will this $13 million investment create over 250 construction jobs, retain hundreds of existing positions at the arena, and generate tens of millions in economic activity for the region – but we’re also opening the door for the Chicago Blackhawks to formally purchase their AHL affiliate, securing the IceHog’s long-term presence in Rockford,” said Governor JB Pritzker.
“The Rockford IceHogs have played a critical role in our franchise’s success, and today, the IceHogs officially become a part of the Chicago Blackhawks family,” said Blackhawks Chairman W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz and CEO Danny Wirtz.
“Not only is this an exciting opportunity from a hockey perspective, but in partnership with the City of Rockford and the State of Illinois, we are reinvesting in Illinois to generate positive economic as well as philanthropic impact through our Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, further solidifying the team’s standing in the community.”
The Blackhawks want to make upwards of $20 million in improvements to the BMO Harris Bank Center, $16 million of which has already been secured in state funds.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will provide $13 million in Rebuild Illinois grant funding, acting as the foundation for an overall $23 million in capital improvements to the 40-year-old facility.
The move also benefits the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority (RAVE), which operates the BMO Harris Bank Center. RAVE has been paying $400,000 per year to the Blackhawks as part of the affiliation agreement.
Craig Thomas, RAVE Chairman, tells Sports Director Scott Leber the improvements at the BMO will be huge in terms in bringing top-flight concerts and entertainment to Rockford. The renovations will begin as soon as the current hockey season ends.
Renovations will include a new box office, expanded concourse, renovated bathrooms, new video board, and various infrastructure upgrades throughout the facility.
Mayor McNamara says these renovations will create opportunities for bigger events and performances to come to Rockford.
“When you’re a young person growing up in Rockford, one of the awesome opportunities that you have is to come to an event, come to a performance, come to an athletic event and share that time with your family. Then you look out and you see these amazing athletes, these amazing performers, and it gives you something to aspire to,” said McNamara.
The mayor tells us he is unsure when the funds from the state will be released but says renovations will start right away.
“We want to make these improvements as quickly as possible so that the Hogs and that partnership with the Blackhawks can really come in here and enjoy a brand new facility,” McNamara added.
RAVE will also benefit from the upgrades at the BMO, which it hopes will help to bring in other forms of top entertainment.