Janesville72°

Vote brings hockey team step closer

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
March 24, 2009
— Bill McCoshen could announce as early as April 1 that he has the franchise to bring a junior A hockey team to Janesville.

The Janesville City Council on Monday decided to spend $200,000 to add a locker room and office at the ice arena to meet North American Hockey League standards. McCoshen, representing Wisconsin Hockey Partners, announced at the meeting the group would finance a team despite the weak economy.


The season starts in September.


Now, the only thing standing in the way is an alcohol license. McCoshen has said Wisconsin Hockey Partners needs the revenue from beer sales to make a go of the venture.


The council voted 4-1 to approve a use agreement and to spend the $200,000 for improvements. Bill Truman voted no. Tom McDonald, Kathy Voskuil, Russ Steeber and Yuri Rashkin voted yes. Amy Loasching and George Brunner were absent.


McDonald stressed that the council’s approval of the contract doesn’t mean it will approve the liquor license.


The contract specifies that beer be sold in a separate area. But City Manager Eric Levitt doesn’t know if it will be possible to provide a separate beer-drinkers section, something some community members and some council members have requested.


McDonald warned that could be a deal breaker for him despite his yes vote.


The alcohol license advisory committee will make its recommendation Tuesday, April 7. A public hearing on the liquor license is scheduled before the council Monday, April 13.


A roomful of people awaited the council’s vote Monday night. The majority of those who spoke were in favor of the team coming here. They also urged the council to make needed repairs at the ice arena, noting recent failures of the ice-making system. A representative of the figure skating club said it cancelled a May event because of poor and unsafe ice conditions.


About $1 million is needed to repair the 35-year-old facility. Levitt has proposed spending $700,000 to replace the ice-making system in 2010.


McCoshen said the possible failure of the ice system is a “huge” concern for him.


“What happens when the Freon goes down?” he asked in response to a council member’s question.


The team would play its games in Stoughton or Oregon until it is repaired. That would be a “fairly significant business disruption” for all user groups at the arena, he said.


Levitt said the contract represents the give-and-take of negotiations and described it as a good deal for both sides. He estimates the city would net $15,000 to $20,000. The team would be on the ice mostly on little-used weekday afternoons.


Levitt said the team would create an economic impact of at least $150,000, according to a just-released study by the visitor’s bureau. He said Janesville’s name would be in all the advertising and promotions all over the country.


The agreement gives the city little of the risk other cities sometimes assume to bring in entertainment, he said.


Still, council members on Monday tried to get more out of the deal.


Voskuil suggested that Wisconsin Hockey Partners pay for some of the needed capital improvements.


“I’m not sure it’s fair to ask me or my partners to fix that,” he said. “That’s a 35-year-old building,” he said.


It’s a community facility that needs improvement, he said.


“That would be for us, like, buying an old house that has a leaky roof, crumbling foundations and windows that are 80 years old. I don’t know why we would do that.”


Council members asked why the city should forego office rent if the team loses money, per the contract. McDonald said the team would get a break if it doesn’t do well but the city wouldn’t reap better benefits if the team succeeds.


He asked for 10 percent of the gross profits from ticket and beer sales.


McCoshen said it is unclear how profitable the team will be. He said he has been talking to the corporations that would sponsor the team. He said he’s had some good luck but also has been met with hesitation.


“We’ll be happy to discuss those things once we have some experience to base those issues on,” McCoshen said. “It’s a fairly thin deal right now. I hope it will get better as the economy continues to improve.”


“My partners … are not looking to make money. We’re looking to do well by the community.”


McCoshen said more than 700 spectators per game are needed to be successful.


Truman voted against the contract because there were “too many unknowns.” He said he hadn’t seen the building plans and he hadn’t seen any additional revenue from the team.


“I think this contact more benefits WHP versus the taxpayers, and I was elected to represent (the taxpayers),” he said.


But Yuri Rashkin got restless with the questions and said the council was micromanaging.


“We need to give people a reason to come to Janesville, and I believe the hockey team is part of that effort. I guess there are no guarantees in life, but we have to try.


“We’re in danger of becoming a city that says, ‘No,’ to things. I think that’s not healthy.”


Later, McDonald said council members are elected to represent citizens and part of that job is to review and question documents.


What they said

Kelley Kaiser, 2307 Plymouth Ave., Janesville: Had concerns about parking and modifications to the building. Said the agreement with Wisconsin Hockey Partners has weaknesses that should be fixed.


Said the quality of the ice at the arena has become so bad because of leaking Freon that the figure skating club cancelled an upcoming competition.


Michael Hammett, 306 N. Walnut St., Janesville: Urged the council to bring the team here and update the rink. Said the Freon alarm went off during a recent tournament and it “sounded like a fire alarm.”


Dennis Heimark, 2533 Wesley Ave., Janesville: Works part-time at the ice arena and sees a large volume of people who use it. Said the city does not promote the rink enough.


“We have great potential down there, but you do have a lot of repairs you should take care of.”


On the issue of alcohol, “I’ve been in this town for 10 years, and this town has a weird mindset … when it comes to alcohol. You have to corral people like cattle … Whatever the event is, I don’t think it will affect the child sitting next to me if I’m having a beer. That seems to be the mindset of people in this town.”


Dawn Sitter: 2730 Dartmouth Drive, Janesville: Spends more time at the ice arena with her kids than at home.


“It’s a nice place for kids to be able to go” rather than cruising the mall or Milton Avenue.


Said players and their families would travel here to play and stay in the city’s hotels and eat in its restaurants. Doubted that anyone would come to the games to get drunk.


Margery Tibbetts, 65 S. Blackhawk St., Janesville: Recently ran a tournament for which seven teams and their families stayed in motels and ate in restaurants here, went to bowling alleys and the movies.


“Having been a hockey mom for 12 years, I know how much money you blow on a weekend.”


Urged the council to approve the hockey team, adding that others would travel to the city to watch the games.


“As a hockey mom, I don’t have a problem drinking a beer and having my kid next to me. The whole beer issue is a red herring and not much of a concern to me.”


Julie Kaveggia, 2952 Dartmouth Drive, Janesville: Concerned for the 450 teenagers who would lose half of their weekend open skate.


“There’s nothing for kids to do in Janesville.” Believes the contract benefits Wisconsin Hockey Partners. “Do we really want to give our ice arena up for $15,000? I think the rink is worth subsidizing and fixing but not solely for one group.”


Has a problem with alcohol in the stands. As a mother, couldn’t imagine people carrying beer cups and having it dribble all over. Urged a designated spot for drinking if beer is allowed.


“There’s no room to fit anybody in there unless we expand. I’m all for expanding it and fixing it up in the most economical way.”



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