Hockey team decision delayed
JANESVILLE The city council Monday night delayed for at least two weeks a decision on whether to spend $200,000 to bring a junior A hockey team here.
Two issues—beer sales and unhappy current ice rink users—were at the forefront of the discussion.
The council had been scheduled to act on an agreement with Wisconsin Hockey Partners to upgrade the ice center. The remodeling would include locker rooms and office space for the team as required by the North American Hockey League. The team would pay the city rent for the space and ice time, and the city could make an estimated $14,000 to $20,000 a year.
The council previously approved spending $29,000 for an architect.
But several speakers from a figure skating group told the council Monday night they had not been involved in earlier meetings with the city and Wisconsin Hockey Partners. They said they didn’t know whether the team would affect their group and were frustrated that they had not been asked for input.
Council member Kathy Voskuil said she was concerned that key user groups were not part of the process.
Council member Bill Truman agreed.
“They’re the ones who made this hockey rink for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “And if we lose them and the hockey group leaves, we might as well close it down.”
Eric Levitt, Janesville’s new city manager, apologized to any groups not included in previous meetings. He said the city had several personnel changes during the process, which started months before Levitt became city manager in December.
“They (the users groups) will be involved as we move forward,” Levitt said.
He cautioned, however, that there won’t be much left from the $200,000 if the groups have specific requests for improvements.
Several residents on Monday also expressed concern about beer being served around youth. Bill McCoshen, a partner in Wisconsin Hockey Partners, has said the revenue from beer sales is needed to make the team financially successful.
“I’m just hoping you might want to consider some other options as far as funding this adventure,” said Billy Bob Grahn, 152 S. Locust St. “Please let’s not put our kids in any more harm in the name of the almighty dollar.”
Council members, too, expected to see in the agreement how beer and youth would be separated.
“One thing that sticks out, whether by phone call or speakers, there’s a true concern about beer sales,” Truman said.
Levitt said they still are studying the best way to handle the beer sales, although there are limitations because of the rink’s configuration.
Council member George Brunner said many residents have contacted him about the hockey team, saying: “I didn’t get a chance to respond to e-mails about the ice arena because my phone was ringing off the hook about the ice arena.
Brunner said most residents, while wary of the $200,000 investment, approve of upgrading the rink for local users. But the council would be bound to maintain the ice arena, and Brunner said he believes costly improvements are in the future.
Levitt estimated the rink could cost $1.5 million in the next five years, maybe sooner if there’s a failure in Freon system that freezes the ice. But that would have to be replaced whether the hockey team is here or not, he said.
McCoshen and his partners still have to decide if they want to go ahead with their own investment to bring a team here, which includes a $200,000 franchise fee. The team should get about 20 percent of its revenues from corporate sponsorships or advertising, and McCoshen said that has been “a little slow right now. It’s a tough economy.”
McCoshen has said Wisconsin Hockey Partners will make a decision by March 15.
McCoshen said two other communities have approached him about locating there if it doesn’t work in Janesville.
“We came to you and are still very much interested in making this work,” he said.
“We picked this city because you have a lot of things we like … Janesville is going to come back, and it’s going to come back strong.
“Do you bring amenities before you bring jobs?” he asked. “I don’t know. I’m willing to take a chance that having an amenity here will help get jobs.”
Bill McCoshen, a partner in Wisconsin Hockey Partners, said he’s been following the articles in The Janesville Gazette and reading online comments and understands the community’s concerns about spending $200,000 so a junior A hockey team can locate here.
“I think we can work through the remaining issues,” McCoshen said Monday. “I’m not dismissing any of them. I do watch the blogs … although some of it is a little mean-spirited, I do think it’s because people don’t know all the facts.”
Below are some of the answers he gave to questions posed Monday:
Q: Who would benefit from the $200,000 in remodeling?
A: Money would be spent to upgrade the concession stand, extend the aboveground heating system and improve the sound system. Money also would be spent on the team’s locker rooms and offices, which the team would rent from the city.
“Of that $200,000, zero goes to us,” McCoshen said.
The city expects to make $14,000 to $20,000 a year but would have to borrow the $200,000.
Q: Could the city be involved in approving the advertising around the rink?
“It’s not in our interest of putting something offensive up there (and) have a group of fans not come again,” McCoshen said.
Q: Can beer sales and youth be separated?
A: Not completely because of the rink’s layout. City Manager Eric Levitt and McCoshen said they still were looking at the best ways to do it, including creating a family section.
Q: Who would make money on the concessions?
A: Mostly the Janesville Youth Hockey League. The city and the team would get a portion. McCoshen doesn’t expect it to be a great amount: On a good night, for instance, the Bluebirds gross about $900.
Q: What about the lack of parking?
A: “I can’t fix that. I’m hoping it’s a problem. really. I’m hoping we have so many people that we have to find separate parking (and provide shuttles),” McCoshen said.
Q: Could the league go bankrupt?
A: The North American Hockey League is the oldest junior hockey league in North America. Some teams do come and go.
“Some get in for the wrong reason,” McCoshen said. “You don’t really make money in junior hockey. You gotta have greater goals than that.”