Saturday, June 17, 2006

Moeller: Family Arena Needs Support - Former St. Charles Mayor Speaks Out on Arena Situation

Moeller: Family Arena Needs Support
Former St. Charles Mayor Speaks Out on Arena Situation

By Louis J. Launer

Former St. Charles Mayor Robert Moeller believes that the County has let the people down concerning the operation of the Family Arena, which is directly owned and operated by St. Charles County.

“It was a great concept,” he said. “But once it was built, no one wanted to deal with it, especially the current administration.”

A month ago, the First Capitol News ran a story concerning St. Charles County’s situation concerning the Family Arena. Recently, in new publications coming from St. Charles County, it appears that Family Arena isn’t even mentioned, not even as a county installation.

“The place is built now,” Moeller said. “It needs to be kept up. It’s a great place to hold great events. I don’t see any problem with the Family Arena being subsidized by the County.”

Moeller believes that Family Arena doesn’t have enough in its operating budget to be a truly operational facility. But the county needs to add more in their budget to make the place important enough so that many events can continue to be booked there.

“There is only one arena in the United States that makes a profit,” he said, “and that’s the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California [home of the NHL’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks]. Every arena project that has been built has not become a money making venture. That’s why the Family Arena needs to be subsidized. It’s the only way that the place will continue to exist and grow.”
At first, St. Charles City was approached with the mid-size arena concept and the city turned them down, citing that they could not afford to own operate the facility, especially when they were also dealing with possibilities of a convention center—all throughout Moeller’s term as mayor between 1995 and 1999. Frank Trulaske later approached the City of O’Fallon, who also rejected the idea of an arena, citing also that they were committed to building what later became T.R. Hughes Ballpark. Then the group approached St. Charles County.

“That was when [County Executive Joe] Ortwerth told his friend Joe Engle, ‘Make the deal.’ Well, they made the deal and Ortwerth got rid of Engle when things weren’t going right after the arena opened in 1999.”

Moeller felt that Ortwerth, who did veto the Family Arena proposal twice in 1997, wasn’t really wanting the arena, yet, didn’t want to see the arena go someplace else.

“I believe he wanted to keep the place somewhere in St. Charles,” he said. “But it wound up in St. Charles County’s lap because none of the cities wanted it and he didn’t want anyone else to get a chance to get the place.”

Moeller believes that the lack of a sports tenant at Family Arena and its operation since 2000 should be a big campaign issue in this year’s County Executive race.

“You can’t just build something like Family Arena and not maintain it,” he said. “The Family Arena should be a mutual effort by not just St. Charles County, but all of the municipalities of the county should also pitch in their fair share.”

UHL MAKES IT OFFICIAL: OTTERS ARE DEAD. Two weeks ago a dispersal draft was held and all of the Missouri River Otter players who were on the final roster for 2005-06 were given their release and available to be picked up by other teams. Noted Otters from last season such as Jim Duhart went to the Fort Wayne Komets. The dispersal draft was held by the remaining teams to collect players from the Missouri River Otters, the Motor City Mechanics, the Richmond Riverdogs and the Roanoke Valley Vipers, who all folded after the season ended.
The UHL is also in some trouble in some of the current franchises that continue to operate. The Danbury News-Times out of Connecticut has been reporting in the last few weeks that the owner of the Danbury Trashers, who competed in this year’s Colonial Cup Finals is under federal investigation for apparent racketeering with his waste hauling business, which serves Connecticut and New York. The newspaper continues to try to connect the Trashers franchise as part of the federal investigation, but the FBI will not comment on the current investigation. Fans and reporters in other UHL cities, notably Fort Wayne, Muskegon, Flint, Moline and even Colonial Cup champion Kalamazoo, have been expressing concern over the league’s actual leadership. A year ago, the UHL was in the best shape it had ever been since their name change nine years ago from the former Colonial Hockey League.

This season, four franchises have folded, three more are suspected to be teetering on the brink of closing (but giving it one more season to gain fan support) and a number of cornerstone franchises, such as Fort Wayne and Kalamazoo, are changing their player personnel, just to keep their teams healthy. In Fort Wayne, a number of veteran players were released by the Komets, simply because the Franke brothers who own the team, want to rebuild the team and try to bring the team back to a championship caliber level. But the four franchises that have folded concern the Frankes and believe that the integrity of the UHL is being compromised.

The UHL will be holding their annual league meetings this weekend in Las Vegas. As it always happens every year, there is an automatic press blackout. But it shouldn’t concern fans in St. Charles, since it was announced that there will not be UHL hockey at Family Arena this year and possibly in future years as well.