Ice arena proposal would free city of future responsibility

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010
— The city might get out of the ice arena business.

Council member Bill Truman recently suggested that the council write a check to the Janesville Youth Hockey Club so the club can build a new arena and then “wash our hands” of running and maintaining the facility.

The club could put the arena where it wants and run it the way it wants, Truman said.

The club’s board meets again next week, and the city council is tentatively scheduled to discuss ice arena issues at its meeting Monday, Feb. 22.

Ownership of the rink is the latest development in what has been an ongoing issue.

The current arena, owned by the city, is old and needs at least $1 million in repair.

A private group working through the hockey club proposed raising $1.5 million to build an arena with two sheets of ice. It asked the city add $2.5 million and donate the land.

The council agreed and gave the group a south side location and a March 1 deadline to raise $2.5 million.

The future location of a new fire station was a large part of that decision. The city can save $1 million in land costs if it can use the current ice arena site at 821 Beloit Ave.

At the Jan. 25 city council meeting, the fundraising group said it was having reservations about the south side location.

At that time, Truman suggested the city consider giving the group $2 million or some other amount to be decided.

“We’ll let them take their rink, build whatever they want, let them have naming rights, advertise, do whatever they want, and the city of Janesville washes its hands of it,” Truman said. “There are no more expenses running it.”

The city spends $65,0000 to $85,000 a year operating the ice arena, but that doesn’t include major facility expenses, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

At least three council members—Yuri Rashkin, Kathy Voskuil and Tom McDonald—seemed receptive to studying the idea of the city getting out of the ice arena business.

Frank Perrotto, who at the meeting spoke out against it, said Tuesday he reacted too quickly. He said he, too, would consider such an option.

“When you are looking at something like this, you probably need to keep all of your options on the table,” Perrotto said. “To close the door on this would be silly.”

Mark Robinson, a member of the fundraising committee, said Tuesday that relinquishing ownership is something Levitt had suggested periodically for several months.

“The idea was, the city would be very happy to get out of the business of running an ice rink because of the cost incurred in the past,” Robinson said.

“It’s only probably in the last month and a half that it has gained any interest from the club standpoint,” Robinson said.

Now, the club is studying whether the proposal is feasible.

Robinson is not on the club’s board.

Generally, rinks that break even or make money are those with two sheets of ice, Robinson said. That’s because overhead does not double with a second sheet of ice but revenues can increase substantially.

A second sheet would allow uses such as indoor soccer or lacrosse during the off season. Now, Rock County youth travel to Madison or Rockford for indoor soccer, Robinson said.

The rink still would be available to rent, including open skate for city residents.

Many of the issues on the table—naming rights and location—might be more easily resolved if the club owned the rink, Robinson said.

“The bottom line is, I think you need to look at all options you can to make sure it’s going to work for the community.

“We’re excited for the community, regardless of where it (the arena) is and who owns it.”

Club ownership could affect the location of the rink. The hockey club might prefer a site that would reduce fundraising costs, Robinson said. For instance, the club could save $300,000 to $750,000 at an east side site because of existing infrastructure.

Levitt said he believes the city would save money in the long run if it relinquishes ownership of the arena. The city would pay to book the ice for its skating programs.

Ice users would not have to worry about city budget cuts affecting their activities, Levitt said. City taxpayers would not be burdened with the yearly subsidy or future capital costs.

“If we eliminate the future cost, it would be a good investment,” Levitt said.

Last updated: 1:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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