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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 24, 202004:40 PM EST

Jacksonville Icemen want to play hockey Downtown through June 2025

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City Council legislation introduced Sept. 22  extends the team’s lease at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.  
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Jacksonville Icemen hockey team wants to extend its use of VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena through June 2025.

Bob Ohrablo, president of the Icemen’s parent company SZH Hockey LLC, said Sept. 18 the organization recently completed negotiations with Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration to extend the team’s arena lease for another five years.

Bob Ohrablo

Ordinance 2020-586, introduced at the Sept. 22 City Council meeting, extends SZH Hockey’s arena use agreement with oversight from the Sports and Entertainment Division of the city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.

The team’s existing agreement, signed in 2017, expires June 30.

SZH Hockey LLC, led by Jacksonville resident Andrew Kaufmann, bought the Icemen organization in July 2019 from El Acquisitions.

The Icemen are an ECHL affiliate of the NHL Winnipeg Jets and AHL Manitoba Moose. The team completed its third season in Jacksonville in March, cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under its current agreement, SZH Hockey pays the city $10,500 for Friday-Saturday home games and $7,500 for Sunday-Thursday games. 

If ticket sales reach $3.5 million at any point in the season, the team pays the city a license fee of 10% of all net ticket sales for the remainder of the season.

A city spokesperson said in a Sept. 22 email that the final version of the new lease under Council consideration has not yet been placed on file with Legislative Services.

Ohrablo said Dec. 4 is the league’s target date to open the 2020-21 season. 

ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin told Toledo, Ohio, newspaper The Blade on Sept. 22 that he will have more information on the status of the upcoming season next week.

In August, Crelin said the league’s board of governors remains “optimistic for the safe reopening of our venues across the continent,” The Blade reported.

Ohrablo said whether or not the ECHL’s 26 teams will play in front of fans depends on local laws and orders in the hosting U.S. states and Canadian provinces. 

In Jacksonville, Ohrablo said he thinks the Icemen could play with limited attendance by opening seats in the upper deck to have enough space to socially distance. 

He said the Icemen would put other safety protocols in place to ensure fan safety if spectators are allowed in the arena.

The Icemen dropped seven home games from its 2019-20 schedule because of the coronavirus response. That caused financial strain that Ohrablo said in a May 1 letter to city officials was “devastating” to the business.

The Icemen was one of 143 nonprofit and for-profit organizations that received aid from the city this year to help with pandemic-related revenue losses.

SZH Hockey received $1.07 million from the city’s $168 million federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act award.

Ohrablo said the city aid, combined with a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, prevented mass layoffs and covered some of the revenue shortfalls.

In a letter to City Hall Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury — then director of intergovernmental affairs — Ohrablo said the canceled games resulted in $490,000- $610,000 in lost ticket revenue and the Icemen had to refund or credit $246,241 in season ticket sales. 

Local sponsorship revenue took a 20% hit of $153,599 and the Icemen projected a $187,728 loss in merchandise sales, the letter said.

“It (city aid) was instrumental in keeping us going,” he said Sept. 18. 

Two Council committees will hear the Icemen lease agreement extension in October and the deal and could get a final vote from the full Council before November.

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