BLOOMINGTON — A new Central Hockey League team will take to the ice in October at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, now that the Bloomington City Council approved a multiyear lease agreement with owners of a new team.
The council unanimously approved on Monday the lease for the city-owned Coliseum. The lease is for two years with an option to renew for a third year.
Coliseum operators, Central Illinois Arena Management, began negotiating with new team owners Gary DelBuono of Boston and Sandra Hunnewell of New Jersey after owners of the PrairieThunder did not exercise their rights to renew that team’s lease.
“Hockey has served us well in Bloomington and it has become vital to the health of the Coliseum,” said Mayor Steve Stockton before the vote.
The 33 hockey games and the eight arena football games played at the Coliseum during the year account for about 20 percent of the 7,500-seat arena’s annual $4 million in revenue. Any loss from operating the Coliseum, which ended its fiscal year April 30 in the black, is paid for by the city from its general operating revenue.
CIAM President John Butler said the management started looking at options for a hockey team last fall. CIAM is required under the terms of its contract with the city to have a professional hockey team as an anchor tenant.
“We are excited that we have the opportunity to bring in owners that have a fresh perspective and new ideas and the financial wherewithal to make sure the team will be here for a long time,” Butler said.
Rick Kozuback, president of the CHL’s parent company, Global Entertainment Corp., said the CHL requires franchise owners to have enough net worth to cover a year of operating a team without ticket sales or sponsorships, which is roughly $1.6 million to $2 million.
Kozuback said he and Butler initially tried to partner DelBuono with the PrairieThunder owners, including lead owner Tim Leighton. After those discussions failed, Kozuback said the CHL and CIAM partnered DelBuono with Hunnewell, who was also interested in owning a hockey team.
As part of the lease with DelBuono and Hunnewell, the pair must provide a $100,000 letter of credit that the CHL or CIAM can draw from to pay vendors and operate the team if needed.
“It is in no one’s best interest to have a startup fail,” Kozuback said.
Several aldermen questioned whether a brand new team could establish itself among hockey fans who have been rooting for the PrairieThunder for the last five years.
“Sometimes a fresh team gets some enthusiasm going,” Kozuback said. “It’s not an easy situation by any means, but if you get the right program in place it can take off.”
Kozuback said the PrairieThunder, which is an International Hockey League team, had a two-year contract to play in the CHL but the PrairieThunder was not a CHL team.
Although the PrairieThunder does not owe the city’s Coliseum fund or CIAM any money, it does owe the Pepsi Ice Center $6,500 for ice rental time, said John Kennedy, the city’s parks, recreation and cultural arts director. How the city will collect that money is undetermined, Kennedy said.
In March, the IRS issued a $23,000 lien against PrairieThunder owners BMI Hockey and Leighton.