Gretchen Gilmore, general manager of the BMO Center, adds color to a mural at the downtown venue on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, during a celebration to unveil the BMO Center’s latest upgrades. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD  — The BMO Center on Thursday unveiled renovations to its box office and main entryway that are designed to allow guests to flow in more efficiently.

Gone is the “ugly circular box office,” as BMO general manager Gretchen Gilmore described it, that was a remnant of the building’s opening as the MetroCenter in 1981.

“The experience of getting people into our building was not sufficient,” said Craig Thomas, chairman of the Rockford Area Venues & Entertainment Authority board, which governs the BMO, Coronado Performing Arts Center and Davis Park. “The security protocols didn’t exist when the building was built. You had tickets where people needed to come in and buy tickets and bring cash, and that’s all gone.”

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The entryway now has a more open feel with the box office flanked along the side after you walk through the doors. The latest phase of improvements, which took place over the course of the summer, also included an upgraded Jack Daniel’s Bar, new Grab & Go store, escalator, administrative offices and a revamped south end zone upper club.

“Our board was very, very locked in on making sure that we get people into the building in a fashion where it’s part of the experience and it’s not a frustration,” Thomas said. “I think our fans our going to recognize it the first time they walk in for a new event.”

Local artist, illustrator and muralist Dustin Eckhardt was commissioned to create a Rockford-centric mural to coincide with BMO’s new look. It depicts images of downtown Rockford with standout features such as Symbol, an IceHogs player and the Rockford sign in Davis Park.

“We’re very proud of it. It’s Rockford specific. It’s downtown specific. We really think that guests will want to take a photo with it,” Gilmore said. “People are going to want to come here just to see the mural.”

Dustin Eckhardt
Artist Dustin Eckhardt paints a mural on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, at the BMO Center in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Eckhardt was working to finish the mural during the unveiling event on Thursday, and several officials with RAVE, BMO, the city and the construction team contributed a few strokes of color to the project.

The mural was initially planned for the main entryway, but the panels were too large for the space. The BMO Center is working on a new plan for the entryway and where to place the mural.

“That’s pretty heartbreaking. We really, really, really wanted that to be a main focal point when our guests arrive,” Gilmore said. “But at this point Ryan (Snider) and I going to find a better place to highlight the mural.”

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The changes were unveiled ahead of the BMO Center hosting the Dropkick Murphys on Friday, Oct. 20, and the IceHogs holding their home opener against the Chicago Wolves complete with a block party on Saturday, Oct. 21.

The latest phase of improvements are part of a $23 million multiyear capital campaign that was announced in April 2021 and laid the groundwork for the IceHogs to be acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided $13 million in that funding.

“The BMO, under numerous different names, has really been the entertainment center hub for the city of Rockford,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “We have featured everything at this facility from The Rolling Stones to monster-truck pulls to Disney on Ice to, obviously, the Rockford IceHogs.”

The changes have helped the BMO Center attract nationally touring acts to the city.

“When a band comes here, or Disney on Ice or Hot Wheels, this is their living room,” said Doug Johnson, assistant general manager for the BMO, Coronado and Davis Park. “The talent that comes in here, we’ve got to take care of them just like people coming through the front door, and we’ve done that in this building.”

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Johnson said he’s actively working on more than a dozen other shows that will come to the BMO Center. He said these improvements are part of a “groundswell of positivity in Rockford.”

“You can feel it, whether it’s downtown, in our buildings and people who are coming out to see shows,” he said.

The work was led by Scandroli Construction of Rockford and Chicago-based Accel Construction. Ryan Snider, president of business operations for the Hogs, gave them and their subcontractors credit for working on a tight timeline to finish in time for the season opener.

“This summer was a lot of big construction projects. A lot of big spaces that our contractor partners have done an amazing job with,” Snider said. “They faced a lot of challenges with a 40-something year-old building, but as you can see this space no longer looks 40-something years old.”

BMO improvements
Craig Thomas, chairman of the RAVE board, pauses for a photo before cutting the ribbon on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, for the new entryway and box office at the BMO Center in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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