Sears Talks Drag

The majority owner of the Sears Centre is reportedly threatening to at least temporarily close the arena in the Illinois village of Hoffman Estates as early as Oct. 1 as local officials consider foreclosing on the venue and taking over operations.

Owner Ryan Cos., a family-owned construction company, is saddled with huge costs including debt service and property taxes. If the village, which issued $55 million in construction bonds in 2005, takes over, it would eliminate at least the latter cost.

Ryan Cos. is hoping to be out of the building by fall, according to Sears Centre GM Jeffrey Bowen. But it needs to negotiate an exit with Hoffman Estates, which would take over the venue or sell it. And that process is taking longer than anticipated, Bowen told Pollstar.

In the meantime, should Ryan Cos. bow out before the village is ready to take back the keys, Hoffman Estates officials have chosen International Facilities Group, a company with ties to the Reinsdorf family that owns the Chicago White Sox, to run the arena on an interim basis until a permanent facility manager can be hired.

Complicating matters is the recent death of Ryan Cos. CEO Jim Ryan, according to Bowen, who downplays the possibility of the venue actually closing its doors – one that has received much play in the local press but something the company and Hoffman Estates are working to avoid.

The Sears Centre posted an operating loss of more than $500,000 last year, but has actually shown growth since Bowen and his team came in to manage the building.

“When I got here two years ago, there were no bookings, no sponsors, nothing,” Bowen told Pollstar. “We’ve shown substantial growth in two years and are doing well despite the recession, which slowed us down but not as much as I expected it to. But it’s now to the point where Ryan just couldn’t afford the tax bill and debt service.”

And the limbo isn’t helping Bowen, who was forced to cut his staff down to 11 (including himself), in recent weeks while Ryan Cos. and Hoffman Estates wrangle over how best to move forward.

Upcoming events on the books include the Chicago Invitational Challenge college basketball tournament in November that includes Marquette and Northwestern university teams, and the University of Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Hockey Tournament Jan. 2-3.

The threat of even a temporary closure of the Sears Centre seems unlikely, at least on the surface. Concerts including Mannheim Steamroller and Bill Gaither & Friends “Homecoming” are still on the books in addition to the sports events.

If the arena is temporarily closed while the village gets its ducks in a row, it would obviously be costly in terms of cancellations. And if it brings in IFG to keep it running, it faces a maximum tab of $124,000 for that company’s services, according to the Daily Herald.

Bowen is keeping his fingers crossed that Ryan Cos. and Hoffman Estates will work out their differences quickly and avoid those scenarios.