Group holds hope for new ice arena

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
— Janesville could be about $300,000 away from a new ice arena, but fundraiser Mark Robinson last week sent an e-mail to the city manager saying the group cannot meet a council-imposed December fundraising deadline.

Robinson estimates the city could buy and renovate the old Janesville Tennis Club building next to Target for less than $3 million. He said he has been negotiating with the owner for two months.

The location would have room for a second sheet of ice if needed in the future.

The council previously endorsed city-owned land on the south side as a location for a new ice arena.

The council had promised the fundraising group $2 million for a new ice arena if the group matched that with $2 million.

The fundraising group so far has raised between $500,000 and $600,000, Robinson said.

It's not clear if the city's $2 million offer will stand after the December deadline or if the group raises less than $2 million.

Council members decided earlier to give the group public money because renovating the old ice arena at 821 Beloit Ave. would cost about $1 million. The city could use the existing ice arena site to build a new fire station, saving $1 million in land costs.

Previous cost estimates for a new ice area started at $4 million, but Robinson said it can be done for less.

"We think with $2.96 million we would have been able to buy that building (the former tennis club) and outfit it for one sheet," Robinson said.

Robinson said the situation is frustrating.

"We're only $300,000 short of getting a one-sheet facility," he said. "I think there's still a possibility—better than we've had in a long time—because of the location."

Robinson said it was only fair to alert the council that the fundraising group won't have the needed money by the December fundraising deadline. The group's efforts have "not been able to overcome the tough economic times," he said in an e-mail to the city.

The council already has extended the fundraising deadline once.

The council set the December deadline because it must decide whether to spend $1 million to renovate the current ice arena.

The current ice arena is 30 years old. Major repairs are needed, and council members worry that ice-making equipment will fail in the middle of the busy winter season.

Robinson said the group would be happy to continue raising money if the council gives the OK.

Two council members contacted Monday were mixed on whether to give the group more time.

Councilmember Tom McDonald voted against the original deadline extension and said that—while he is disappointed—he would not extend it again.

McDonald said the city should move as quickly as possible to renovate the existing rink.

"A deadline is a deadline," McDonald said. "The city needs to move on."

He also doubts that the former tennis building could be renovated for $3 million, noting that other recently built arenas in other cities cost at least $5 million. He worries that taxpayers would be left to pick up the overrun.

"We set a deadline many months ago, and the deadline wasn't met," McDonald said. "I think we should have started this past summer … The longer we wait, the more money we spend every year with temporary repairs … (that) add up to big money."

McDonald said he isn't surprised that the group was unable to raise the money.

"It still would have been nice to see that kind of support coming from the community," he said. "The fact that it's not also sends a pretty strong message to the council."

Councilman Russ Steeber, however, said he is willing to work with the group to make a new rink a reality.

Steeber voted with the majority to extend the fundraising deadline and said there is always room for a second look.

He believes the economy is the largest factor in the difficulty in raising money, not public sentiment against a new arena.

"There's no question that something needs to be done with the rink, whether it's building a new one or putting money into a building that's 30 years old," Steeber said.

"I would rather see a new arena that could include the ability to expand to two sheets and be energy-efficient. What the city is going to be faced with is putting a lot of money into a building that is undersized, inadequate and very inefficient."

Steeber invited the group to come before the council with its new proposal.

"I don't think there's a bright line that this is the exact cut-off date," he said. "I think they're stuck with the fact that the economy is in the tank, and I just feel like there might be some other options.

"I don't think people realize that (the arena is) one of the most-used facility in the city."

It has the potential to make money to offset the city's subsidy, he added.

Steeber believes the planned south side location might have made fundraising more difficult. Investors look at where they can "get the most bang for their buck," he said.

The fundraising group preferred an east or northeast side location.

The city would begin work on renovating the current ice arena either in 2011 or 2012, depending on how long the design takes, City Manager Eric Levitt said. The rink is less busy in April through September, so summer would be the preferred period.

Last updated: 3:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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