Janesville City Council unanimous in support of Jets

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville City Council members on Monday assured an owner of the Janesville Jets hockey team that the council will hang with the club through bad times as well as good.

Wisconsin Hockey Partners asked for a one-year lease rather than its previous five-year lease. It also asked to pay $7,450 less to the city in fees.

The council unanimously agreed to the contract, showing just how much it has embraced the Tier II Junior A team.

The votes were not unanimous five years ago when council debated on spending $2.6 million for ice arena renovations and to allow alcohol sales.

Shelley Slapak, recreation director for the city, recommended the city accept the lease in hopes both the city and the Jets can partner for long-term success.

She noted the many benefits of keeping the team here, including the popularity of the late-night skate held after games and the positive relationship between team members and the community.

The Jets have helped the city reduce its subsidy to the arena to $21,000 from $85,000, mostly because the team uses the ice when it's not otherwise being used.

Wisconsin Hockey Partners President Bill McCoshen said the club this year changed its business model and stopped giving out free tickets. As a consequence, attendance fell.

Now the club must do a better job reaching out casual hockey fans, McCoshen said. He especially noted families that might not realize how affordable a night at the arena can be.

The club might pay less to the city, but McCoshen said the team would continue bringing in players and families from all over the world for tryouts, tournaments and camps. The visitors rent rooms and eat in city restaurants, he said.

Councilman Douglas Marklein said the Jets bring more than hockey to Janesville, noting the community service provided by the young skaters.

“We don't read about them in the paper where we're not supposed to read about them,” Marklein said.

“I think they bring a lot of money to Janesville, food, revenue and awareness,” he added, calling their contributions "priceless."

“You could look at this and say we are losing $7,000,” Marklein said. “If the team decided to leave, we leave $31,000 on the table.”

Council member Kathy Voskuil described the club's downturn as a “hiccup” and predicted better years ahead.

Councilman Jim Farrell asked whether local players on the team would create a better draw, and McCoshen agreed. He said the mix of players depends on talent, adding that one player might possibly come from Janesville next year.

Farrell also asked whether the rink itself might affect attendance.

“We appreciate everything the council's done to help upgrade the rink,” McCoshen said, adding the city is a great partner.

“We said from the beginning, we were willing to play at the arena," McCoshen added. "We love it there. We love it when it's packed."

“Is it the North American Hockey League? Not even close, but it works for us," he said. "We're hoping to stay. I'm hoping I'm back a year from now, looking for a longer lease.”

The council also agreed to spend an additional $17,502 to reopen the Riverside Park wading pool this summer now that the city has delayed building a splash pad for at least a year.

Slapak said she would use that and $10,000 the council put into the budget to operate the splash pad for the wading pool.

City Manager Mark Freitag said he is concerned about putting the splash pad on the north end of the park because of flooding issues. That, though, is where the Friends of Riverside Park would like to see the amenity.

Slapak said she would not reopen the pool if extensive repairs were needed. She set aside $3,000 in the budget for repairs, but noted the city has spent more to reopen the pool in the past.

 “We've had a very difficult winter, “ Marklein said. “We may say 'yes' now (to open the pool), but we may have sad faces if we find out this is beyond reasonable repairs.”

He also said he'd like to know if that decision must be made.

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