Today, the interior of the MetroCentre is a hard-hat area. It will be another story Friday night when fans pack the remodeled 26-year-old arena for the Rockford IceHogs’ sold-out home opener against the San Antonio Rampage.
Today, the interior of the MetroCentre is a hard-hat area.
It will be another story Friday night when fans pack the remodeled 26-year-old arena for the Rockford IceHogs’ sold-out home opener against the San Antonio Rampage.
The first thing fans may notice is that most of Jim Orlando’s photos of the building’s past are gone from the entrance lobby to be replaced by sponsor promotions.
It won’t be the last change they notice.
The ice surface is 15 feet longer, premium seating areas surround the arena bowl, there are twice as many restrooms for both sexes, and a new specialty concession area to be opened in the spring is still under construction.
And then there is the video board.
“The video board will be the most impressive part for the fans,” Centre Events assistant General Manager Brian Luther said. “It’s an all new technology for Rockford.
We have full production capabilities to do anything we want. And the nice thing is that, with the replay capability, if there’s a goal and you miss it, we can replay it.
“We could also compile highlights for each team during the game and show them at the end.”
The video board, hung over center ice, is four flat-screen receivers that deliver clarity akin to a living room television. Below the screens is a rotating message ring. It will be operated from a control booth at the northwest end of the arena bowl.
Technicians at two flat-screen monitors in the control booth will be able to send pretaped or character-generated messages to the video board and choose from shots by four cameras. Luther said one camera will be located at the bottom of the video board and another near the press box area.
A third camera can be set at any of eight other sites in the arena and the fourth is a hand-held wireless that will be used primarily for in-game promotions.
“From our standpoint, the new video board brings a whole new level of fan entertainment to our games,” said IceHogs President Ryan Washatka. “In previous seasons, our fan entertainment stemmed from our fantastic public address announcer, the on-ice contests and in-stands contests, but now the video board is going to take that to another level.”
Washatka said the front office staff is working to put together a presentation that will make the most of the video board’s capabilities. “What you see on this opening weekend will probably be a work in progress,” he said. “The final show on Friday and Saturday will probably give us something to build on as we gain more experience with the video board and have more time to do things with the team.”
The premium seating areas are a press box level suite, 13 club boxes located in what used to be the inner concourse walkway, and the Dental Dimensions Club Lounge at the southeast end of the arena.
Bar stools, chairs and other furniture for the boxes arrived Monday in Los Angeles to prepare for shipping to Rockford. They are expected to roll into town some time
“The crews have been working long hours and tremendously hard,” Luther said.
“They’re keeping us on track and, in fact, a little bit ahead of schedule, which is very comforting.”
An effect of the club box locations is that fans will no longer be able to walk around the arena on the inner concourse.
“That’s going to give everybody a more enjoyable experience,” Luther said, “especially the people sitting in the first few rows of the 200 level. They won’t have to worry about people standing in front of them.
“It’s a lot better for us to monitor for safety, too. Now, if you’re going to exit the building, you go right out to an exit. There’s no more opportunity to walk around the inner concourse.”
Fans who want to walk around will still have the outer concourse area and, when it is completed, the Fan Zone above the Dental Dimensions Club Lounge. Luther said the Fan Zone will have specialty concessions, a Centre Plate concession stand and restrooms when it is finished.
Several specialty concessions that fans are already used to such as Panino’s, Top Dog, the martini bar and sweet shop will remain in their familiar locations Friday night.
Washatka said the remodeling, which will include upgrades to the outside facade and a restaurant and food court area next year, will have a large impact on operations for the team and other events in the arena.
“The building just looks recharged,” Washatka said. “I’ve been in this market with the team since its second year, and when you think of the ice extended 15 feet, that’s not a lot of distance. But when you look at the ice now compared to what you’re used to, it looks enormous.
“I think it will be really exciting to see this caliber of player playing on an ice sheet that large.”
Luther said Friday’s game will feel like a rebirth of the facility for the MetroCentre staff.
“We’ve been working hard the past two weeks to get all of the construction dirt and dust out,” Luther said. “As the building has been getting cleaned up, it’s coming back to life again.
“We’ve been shut down since April and going 120 percent on the design and getting this all going forward but, all in all, it went very well.”
Staff writer Mike DeDoncker can be reached at 815-987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.