Janesville47.5°

Ice arena supporters continue to seek two sheets of ice

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
July 18, 2010
— The spokesman for a group raising private money to help pay for a new city ice arena said it should have two sheets of ice, not one as recommended by a city consultant.

Ice arena users believe the consultant “failed to adequately interview all of the user groups and listen to their possible extended uses and alternative uses, ” Mark Robinson said.


Robinson is a member of a committee raising money for the arena and affiliated with the Janesville Youth Hockey Club.


The city council in October partnered with the group to build a new arena. The council agreed to match $2 million raised by the private group. And, it agreed to chip in $500,000 for a second sheet of ice if the group raised an additional $1.5 million. The group has so far raised about $700,000.


Robinson detailed some of the extra activities that a second sheet could host and said the arena could be marketed to avoid a city subsidy, something that isn’t done now.


He said a second sheet could:


-- Allow the hockey club and figure skaters to host tournaments and skating shows.


-- Allow the Janesville Jets hockey team to host additional tournaments.


-- Provide an indoor location for baseball, soccer, and lacrosse players in the off-season because the second sheet would not be needed year-round.


-- Provide space for local companies to hold trade shows. Robinson said he knows of a local business that hosts its biannual trade show in Madison because Janesville does not have a facility. A facility here could mean those vendors would come to Janesville instead, he said.


“This is not to say the consultant was wrong,” Robinson said. “You have to think outside the box. If this is going to be run so the city doesn’t have to subsidize it, (the city) may have to change how it was being run so it is run more like a business as opposed to just a recreational facility.”


Robinson said the group would continue to ask the city for the additional $500,000. City Manager Eric Levitt has recommended against the funding.


“We’re hopefully optimistic that we can keep this project moving forward,” Robinson said.


The council likely will consider its commitment to two sheets at its Aug. 23 meeting.


The consultant’s report, which the council reviewed Monday, is being sent to the city’s Ice Skating Center Advisory Committee, scheduled to meet Wednesday, Aug. 4.


Ice arena users there will be asked to weigh in.


Steve Walker is on the ice arena committee and the youth hockey board of directors.


He is waiting to see a copy of the report and view the consultant’s facts and figures because the recommendation is different from the experience of ice arena users, he said.


“We certainly have programs that are being restricted right now because of the lack of ice,” Walker said.


The consultant might have noticed open ice slots at 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., Walker said, but parents don’t what their children practicing at those hours.


“That’s our focus right now,” Walker said. “Our membership is being squeezed by the fact that we can’t get reasonable ice hours.”


He pointed out that athletes don’t use the city’s baseball fields from November through March, but the ice arena is open year-round.


The council should consider that the ice arena might be the closest thing that city has to a break-even recreation facility, Walker said. The city gets back a fraction of its investments in the swimming pools, for instance, and nothing back from its parks, he said.


In 2008, the city’s subsidy for the arena was $85,000. It paid $1.4 million for the parks and $190,124 for the Janesville Senior Center, for example.


The report agrees that the current arena’s ice cooling system will last no more than three years, and Levitt said the council must decide in the next 12 months whether to renovate the facility on Beloit Avenue or build a new arena at a south side site.


Levitt said that while he supports the $2 million in public money for a new arena, he does not recommend spending another $500,000 in public money for a second sheet of ice.


If outside money cannot be raised, Levitt supports spending $1 million to renovate the current rink.


The city will be looking critically at many city services to reduce costs during the next budget cycle, and Levitt said he doesn’t believe the city should spend public dollars to increase the service level at the ice arena at a time when the council might cut services in other areas, he told the council Monday.


Levitt also countered comments from community members who say the arena should first be a community facility rather than one that caters to the hockey and figure-skating groups.


Other athletic venues the city has helped build—the Youth Sports Complex for football and soccer players and the youth baseball fields—are used almost exclusively by baseball and football players, he said.


The current ice arena has more community use than any of the other facilities, Levitt said. The hockey players and figure skaters bring in the majority of revenue to the arena and, without them, the subsidy would be even higher, he said.



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