E-Mail Subscriptions to the Blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chicago Hounds call it quits; UHL down to 5 teams

The Chicago Hounds ceased operations, it was announced Wednesday, leaving the United Hockey League with just five surviving teams. The one-year-old Hounds, owned by Belvidere, Illinois businessman Craig Drektrah, were unable to reach an agreement with the Hoffman Estates Sears Centre venue on lease arrangements for the 2006-7 season. The team then received permission from the UHL to cease operations.

Drektrah, in a prepared statement, said the Sears Centre was demanding rates four times higher than the next highest rent paid by the next highest UHL team, a tripling of the teams rent, and reserved all the desirable weekend dates for other tenants. “I really believe that with reasonable rent and good home dates, the Hounds could have been a very successful franchise,” Drektrah said.

The Sears Centre, which is 75 percent owned by the Ryan Companies US, Inc. and 25 percent by Sears, Roebuck & Co., has operated for less than a year. The multi-purpose arena sat 9,000 for hockey, although it never reached that with the Hounds. The arena had sought the Hounds, noting the team would prove to be an anchor tenant in its January 2005 announcement, “we are very excited about welcoming the United Hockey League… this is just the first step in building a top-flight schedule of events (for the Arena),” said then arena president Steve Hyman.

However, things went awry quickly as the Sears Centre seemed unprepared for the Hounds opening night, about one month after the doors opened on the new building. Seats were not installed, workers struggled with installing the required safety glass and most glaring, the center of the ice sheet had melted.

The center had first projected attracting 750,000 visitors annually to Hoffman Estates, although a recent estimate put the number at 600,000 or a 20 percent drop. In addition, the arena recently announced the departure of Hyman and the installation of a new chief operating officer, Jeff Bowen. Supported by a $50 million loan from the Village of Hoffman Estates, the constant question to city officials has been what if the arena fails? The city, on its web site, says it issued long-term revenue bonds based on the income stream from the venue. It also planned to fund a reserve fund over the next six to seven years, to pay two years of debt service without raising property taxes or diverting other revenues to pay for the Sears Centre.

It admits that if the Sears Centre defaults, property taxes may have to be raised.

The team’s loss means the UHL is on even thinner ice than the Sears Centre. The league is down to just five teams, the Bloomington, Illinois Prairie Thunder, the Kalamazoo K-Wings, the Muskegon, Michigan Fury, the Fort Wayne, Indiana Komets and the Flint, Michigan Generals. Four teams have already indicated this season they are leaving the league. The Rockford, Illinois IceHogs and the Quad Cities (Moline, Illinois) Mallards both joined the American Hockey League while the Elmira, New York Jackals joined the ECHL. The Port Huron, Michigan Flags previously announced they were ceasing operations.

The Bloomington Prairie Thunder, which recently changed ownership, indicated to WMBD/ WYZZ TV , Bloomington, Illinois that it expects the Flags to reenter the league under new ownership and to announce a new UHL team before the fall. The team also admitted to entering preliminary negotiations with the ECHL and the Central Hockey League, the report said.

Drektrah, an engineer, was owner of the Rockford IceHogs. However that team is being purchased by the Rockford MetroCentre and being affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks as their primary minor league affiliate. He purchased the Hounds in February from Dr. Eric Margenau. In an April 2007 interview with the ChitownDailyNews website he said his enthusiasm and knowledge would turn the Hounds into a successful franchise.

“All the little things are a challenge and an adventure,” Drektrah told the ChitownDailyNews. “I had good experience in Rockford,” he said, “I really believe this market has a lot of potential.” Drektrah told media outlets he is investigating moving the franchise to another area venue.

Drektrah listed IceHogs co-owner Dr. Kris Tumilowicz and IceHogs General Manager Jeff DiMarco as key influences saying that although the two disagreed over the sale of the IceHogs, they remained close.

“It is unfortunate that a reasonable lease agreement could not be reached between the Hounds and the Sears Centre,” UHL Chairman of the Board of Governors told OurSportsCentral, “I applaud Craig Drektrah for the passion and the decision making that he has shown while leading the Hounds.”

In their one year of play Greg Puhalski was named UHL Coach of the Year. The team, with a 31-38-7 record made the first round of the playoffs. They were eliminated there by the Komets in five games. Intotheboards said the team had an average attendance of 2,080, placing it 82nd out of 87 minor league hockey teams this season. It said the average UHL attendance was 3,420 in the regular season.

No comments: