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posted: 1/12/2010 12:01 AM

So far, so good for new Sears arena management

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  • Marilyn Tuckman, an usher, right, checks tickets and gives directions to seating in the Sears Centre Arena for a hockey tournament last weekend, the first event at the Sears Centre under the new manager Global Spectrum.

      Marilyn Tuckman, an usher, right, checks tickets and gives directions to seating in the Sears Centre Arena for a hockey tournament last weekend, the first event at the Sears Centre under the new manager Global Spectrum.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

Hoffman Estates village board members said they're happy with how the new Sears Centre management firm handled its first event at the arena.

"Good to see everything was getting along as advertised," Trustee Gary Pilafas said, while also complimenting the new food service and staff.

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Global Spectrum, the Philadelphia-based division of cable's Comcast Spectacor, had staff in place last weekend for the Shillelagh college hockey tournament. While Hoffman Estates took ownership in mid-December, before the Dec. 18 Bliss Lingerie Football contest, a deal with Global was only approved afterward.

Fans bought 5,509 tickets for the two-day tournament. New Sears Centre General Manager Ben Gibbs said the sales are encouraging and were better than last year's 4,454 tickets sold.

Gibbs recently moved from Orlando, Fla., and is still getting used to the Chicago area market.

"The building's extremely impressive in terms of being well built; it's well set up," he said.

Trustee Cary Collins, who had criticized the process for selecting a new management company, threw bouquets to Pilafas and Trustee Raymond Kincaid, who head the village's arena commission, which interviewed arena management firms and has dealt with the building's transition to village ownership.

"I was particularly impressed that the ice didn't melt, which is a good sign," Collins joked, referring to the first hockey game at the arena in 2006, which was canceled after fans arrived because of melting rink ice, scarring the arena's reputation.

That game featured the Chicago Hounds, which folded in 2007 after attendance problems.

Despite that inauspicious beginning, Hounds ownership is interested in bringing back minor league hockey to the Sears Centre.

Having a stable sports franchise inside the building would provide the arena with regularly scheduled dates and more predictable revenues. Concerts are one-time events that are trickier to book, and where the venue competes with the larger, more centrally located Allstate Arena and United Center.

Efforts to get a successful sports franchise foundered under the previous ownership, however. The Sears Centre has seen soccer, lacrosse and hockey teams all fold in just over three years of having its doors open.

Kincaid said he is hopeful the center can book a lot more events with a professional operator like Global Spectrum.

Village officials had criticized Ryan Cos., the previous owner and manager. Ryan, a Minnesota-based construction developer, had no previous arena experience.

It had hoped to open other arenas across the country using the Sears Centre as the prototype.

Instead, hurt in part by a stalled economy, the building was a money loser and the company backed away, leaving the village responsible for payments on a $55 million construction loan.

Officials estimate the arena will incur operational losses of $1.2 million in 2010, which Global and the village are calling a transition period.

The amount Global will get paid by the village depends on if the arena makes a profit. A final contract with Global hasn't been signed, but the two parties are looking at a 10-year deal for about $132,000 annually, plus a cut of profits.

Village officials remain optimistic. It remains to be seen how patient voters will be, with a potential property tax increase lurking, depending on how the center does.

"Hopefully it will go up, up, up for all of us," Trustee Karen Mills said.

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