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Lost Hockey Games Mean Lost Money For City's Arena

Twitter @ciflyingaces
The Central Illinois Flying Aces during a game earlier this season.

This fall’s cancellation of five hockey games at Grossinger Motors Arena—caused by a long-delayed repair project—will cost the city-owned venue thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

The original boards and glass that were installed in 2006 around the arena’s hockey rink were not meant to be repeatedly removed and re-installed for different types of events. That wear and tear left the boards in dire need of replacement—something the city knew about as early as 2015. The Bloomington City Council, however, didn’t approve funding for the $187,870 project until August.

Stopgap repairs are now underway, and the new boards and glass will be installed in December. Those delays, however, prompted the Central Illinois Flying Aces to push back their home opener twice, most recently to Nov. 10. Five home games were lost from the schedule, including four that were moved to Peoria.

During the offseason, the Flying Aces were “very adamant” that they would not be willing to play at the arena unless the boards were fixed, said team chief operating officer Brendan Kelly.

“We’re happy as an organization going forward that they’re addressing it,” Kelly said. “We’re thankful that the city has stepped up to ensure the correct system is in this building.”

The $187,870 isn’t the only cost being incurred by the city. Toward the end of last season, each hockey game was generating between $3,100 and $6,400 in profit for the arena, mostly through a building rental fee and food and beverage sales.

That money is lost. And if the rebranded Flying Aces draw more attendance than last season—when they played as the Thunder—the lost profit would be even greater.

“It is going to hurt our bottom line,” said Lynn Cannon, executive director at Grossinger Motors Arena. Cannon works for VenuWorks, the arena’s management company since April 2016. “I don’t see it coming back to us through the hockey team at this point.”

Any lost revenue is a concern for the building. It reported a larger-than-expected $673,518 operating loss for the fiscal year that ended April 30. The arena has touted several bookings announced this week, including Judas Priest, Kenny Rogers, and World Championship ICE Racing.

Cannon has been on the job 10 months. She said that as soon as she heard about the boards issue, she moved quickly to get repairs in motion. Some of the delay in city funding may have been the high cost of the replacement boards. The funding was unanimously approved by aldermen in August.

“It’s not a small amount of money that was invested into the system,” said Cannon.

It also takes new dashers between 10-12 weeks to be manufactured once ordered, she said.

Stopgap repairs are expected to be completed in time for the Nov. 10 hockey home opener. The Flying Aces will now play their Oct. 28, Oct. 29, Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 games at the Peoria Civic Center. (The Flying Aces and Peoria Rivermen hockey teams are both owned by the same company.)

The wear and tear on the old boards were so bad that there were big gaps in the system, raising the concern that a player could get checked into protruding glass and get cut, Kelly said. There was also very loose glass in some areas, meaning pieces could been knocked loose onto fans, he said.

The new boards and glass will protect players and fans, Kelly said, and they’re designed to be removed and reinstalled as different events come through the arena.

Kelly said he doesn’t think the canceled home games will cause major problems in its fan base.

“Our fans have been wonderful, patient, and understanding,” Kelly said. “They understand we’re doing what it takes to be the best in our league and in our industry.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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