Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and the owner of the Evansville IceMen professional hockey team may end a five-year relationship. The two sides have been embroiled in lease discussions in recent months as the current agreement between the team and the Ford Center nears an end. Winnecke says the city’s goal is to have a pro hockey team in some form at the arena.
Winnecke’s statement on Twitter reads:
To the Evansville IceMen fans, thank you for your patience during this process & for supporting ice hockey in our city. Over past 9 years, the city has embraced the sport of ice hockey at the Ford Center & built a tremendous fan base in the process. While unfortunate there is currently an impasse, it is our goal to ensure that professional hockey is played next season in the Ford Center. It is our responsibility to the taxpayers to explore every possible option to reach our goal. City currently has 3 options & has now communicated those to the IceMen. 1. City is more than willing to continue negotiating w/ the IceMen. 2. City willing to entertain discussion about transfer of ownership. VenuWorks, operator of the Ford Center has begun seeking interest from other teams & additional leagues, including ECHL for next season. Evansville has proven to be a successful "hockey town" w/ a fair rent model, fantastic sporting venue & most importantly, diehard fans. Finally, I would encourage fans to continue supporting the IceMen players by attending upcoming games."
The team released a response on its Facebook page, saying it wants to make a deal, but can’t agree to the city’s new terms:
We need to be clear about something – we love Evansville and we love our fans. The IceMen have a great team this season and a real shot at making the playoffs! We have been a strong tenant of the Ford Center since it opened, but we cannot afford to pay more and that is what the City has asked of us. The City did lower our rent, but the other changes they are making in our lease make it even more expensive for the IceMen than the current lease. The IceMen rent is one of the highest in the ECHL league. We would love to stay in Evansville and will continue to try and make that happen so our fans can continue to enjoy great professional hockey. We are going to do our very best in the coming weeks to see that you, our fans, can still experience IceMen hockey! #GoIceMen!
The pro hockey relationship between the city and owner Ron Geary began in 2010 when the old International Hockey League announced it was transferring the Muskegon Lumberjack franchise to Geary to start the IceMen. Prior to joining the ECHL and becoming the first professional tenant of the Ford Center, the team played its first season in the Swonder Ice Arena. In November 2011, the IceMen played the first sporting event at the Ford Center. Geary also owns Ellis Park, a horse racing complex in Henderson, Kentucky, which is located on the other side of the Ohio River from Evansville.