Levitt: Put new Janesville rink on ice

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Friday, September 11, 2009
— Janesville’s city manager recommends that the city spend about $1.3 million to improve the current ice arena rather than spend $2 million on a new one at this time.

Eric Levitt cited concerns about the economy and the proposed location of a new rink in a memo to council members. The council will discuss the issue at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall.

The Janesville Youth Hockey Club Building Committee, a private group, has proposed raising money to build a phased, two-sheet ice arena for a total of about $5 million. The proposed site would be on 11 acres of city-owned land at the Youth Sports Complex.

Larry Squire, a committee representative, declined to comment Thursday morning on Levitt’s recommendation until he knows more details. His group was scheduled to ask the council Monday for $2 million for the first phase of the new arena.

The ice rink near Dawson Field is more than 30 years old.

Levitt estimates the arena needs $1.3 million in improvements, including a new roof and ice-making system. Last spring, the system failed, and the arena was closed for several months.

Levitt said the private group’s efforts are admirable and his recommendation does not reflect on their proposal.

“With the current economy and the city’s financial conditions and from my seat dealing with budget issues, I can’t recommend going with that project,” he said.

He is struggling with the 2010 operating and capital project budgets.

“We’re trying to cut things out and tying to deal with priorities,” he said.

The ice arena is no different than other high-priority facilities whose maintenance has been deferred, such as the Tallman House, Levitt said.

The right improvements could extend the arena’s life for 10 years and improve its energy efficiency, he said. Some of the new components, such as the compressor, could eventually be relocated.

Levitt said he is concerned that a new rink project could be held up after the city decided not to address the old arena’s needs.

“And then you could end up with no service,” Levitt said.

Delaying the project also gives the city time to evaluate its location.

A new rink would last 30 to 40 years, “so you’d better look at it right,” Levitt said.

The youth hockey committee committed to raise $2.5 million through donations and is asking the city for $2 million for the first sheet and an additional $500,000 for a second sheet.

The proposal projects that the current city subsidy of $85,000 would be zero when both sheets are operating.

The Janesville Youth Hockey Club would initially own the arena and would sell it to the city for $100 after five years. The city would continue to operate the rink.

Advocates of the downtown and the west side have asked the city to consider a different location than the east side.

Steve Scaccia of the Westgate Business Corridor group said members do not want to see something “arbitrarily” go to the east side.

“It shouldn’t automatically go to the sports complex because there’s ground available,” Scaccia said. “It should be put in the right place for the overall development of Janesville.”

The west side association suggests Rockport Park as an option because the park has the room and already has a winter theme with cross-country skiing.

The group also has no problem with the arena staying where it is.

“It serves the people in the Fourth Ward. It serves the west side, and it is also important to downtown development,” Scaccia said. “If it goes to the east side, all these new people will be coming into town, and they aren’t going to see the downtown. They’ll never get near it.”

Christine Moore of the Downtown Development Alliance said that, from a downtown perspective, it is always good to see things stay in the central city.

“Keeping investing in the current location is not the worst solution for the downtown,” she said. “It’s probably a boom for the downtown, at least in the short term.”

The community would have to decide if that is the best choice in the long term, Moore said.

Both Scaccia and Moore acknowledged that it would be difficult to find enough land in the downtown itself.

Last updated: 11:24 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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