Arena becomes fluid situation

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010
— A lot of unanswered questions.

That's how City Manager Eric Levitt characterized an announcement by a fundraising group that would set a different course for a new ice arena.

The city had promised the group $2 million to build a new arena on the city's south side if the group could raise $2 million. But group member Mark Robinson last week notified the council that it could not raise that amount by Dec. 31, the deadline imposed by the council.

Robinson on Monday told the Gazette he has another option: a building at 3410 Bell St. near Target that he said could be renovated into a single-sheet ice arena for under $3 million. The cost for a new ice arena was estimated at $4 million, but some have said cost would be higher.

Robinson said his group has raised between $500,000 to $600,000, which leaves $300,000 left to raise for a new, $3 million arena in the Bell Street building, assuming the city still would contribute $2 million.

Council member George Brunner said Tuesday he looks at it another way: The group is $1.5 million short of its previous goal to raise $2 million.

"That, to me, paints a whole different picture as to where we're at," Brunner said.

So, what's next?

Levitt said he would put the issue on a future city council agenda, probably in January, with a strategy of exploring different options, including renovation of the current facility at 821 Beloit Ave.

Levitt said he knows nothing about the site on Bell Street, including whether the building could be renovated or how much it would cost.

The city would own a new ice arena.

If the fundraising group wants to address the council, members would have to contact Levitt or council members with more information, he said.

Time is an issue.

The existing ice arena is about 35 years old. Many worry that it is only a matter of time before the ice-making machinery fails, and they are hoping it doesn't happen during the busy winter season.

The council already has set aside $1 million for renovations to the current facility. The city also expects to pay $1 million to buy land near downtown to build a new fire station.

If the city builds a new ice arena, the fire station would be built at the site of the existing ice arena, saving the city $1 million in land acquisition. The $1 million saved plus the $1 million set aside for repairs at the existing ice arena would instead go to build a new arena.

If the group fails to raise $2 million for a new ice arena, the council has directed that the city renovate the existing facility unless an alternative is found, Levitt said.

"Right now, my focus again is to try to keep this facility functioning," he said.

On Monday, council member Tom McDonald said he would not consider extending the fundraising deadline. He said he doubts the Bell Street facility could be renovated for $3 million.

Councilman Russ Steeber said he didn't consider the fundraising deadline as set in stone and said he would listen to other options presented by the group.

Councilman Yuri Rashkin said the council should move forward with renovations with an eye to building a new ice arena sometime in the future.

"The city doesn't have time to wait," Rashkin said, noting that the equipment is on its last legs.

The council could maintain the current facility and plan for another building in the next five years or so, he said. The piping could not be moved but the ice-making equipment could be relocated, he said.

"We need to plan these things ahead and not get into a crisis (mode.)

"I feel that in order to ensure smooth operations, we need to maintain the facility," Rashkin said.

Brunner said it is unfortunate the fundraising group did not reach its goal.

"Now it's time for the council to sit down and take a hard look at it and make a decision with all the information available," he said.

"If there's any new information that comes forward between now and then, that has to be considered," Brunner said.

Would he vote to allocate more than the $2 million the council already has agreed to contribute for a new ice arena?

"I don't think there's any more money there," Brunner said.

The council already has allocated money to maintain and renovate the facility, and spending more to buy a new facility would be a hard sell, he said. The council can't keep extending the deadline because it might find itself in a situation where the current facility fails, he said.

Last updated: 3:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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