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Janesville ice arena plan gets deadline

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 14, 2010
— Backers of a new ice arena have until Dec. 31 to raise at least $2 million.

If they don’t, it looks as if the Janesville City Council would move ahead with major repairs to the old, deteriorating ice skating center.


The council Monday voted 6-1 to give $2 million to a one-sheet ice rink to be built on the previously approved south-side site the city owns.


But that money would be given only if a private group comes up with $2 million to match it.


If the private group can raise enough money for two sheets of ice, it has the city council’s blessing as well.


With less than four months to raise the money, “we need to go into overdrive to get our contributors enthusiastic and behind this project,” said Steve Walker, spokesman for the fund-raisers.


Walker told the council the job is “monumental” but doable. He said it would involve not just ice skaters’ parents but rather the whole community.


Some potential contributors have been waiting to see what the council would do, so Monday’s decision should help, Walker said.


The council made its decision in front of perhaps 25 hockey supporters, including 12 young figure skaters, some in their performance outfits.


The fundraisers themselves did not appear, which caused council member Yuri Rashkin to worry about their support. Walker said afterward that that was a calculated decision because the fundraisers did not want to cloud the issue as the council deliberated.


The location “has some problems in our mind, but I don’t think it’s going to be make-or-break as far as fundraising is concerned,” Walker said.


Several council members mentioned favorably a downtown site, perhaps near the Five Points intersection, and Frank Perrotto mentioned another location he said is being discussed.


Walker said those comments lead him to believe the council might be flexible on the location.


Council President Kathy Voskuil was adamant about sticking with the site in an industrial park off Beloit Avenue, however.


Council members said they are worried about upcoming 2011 budget deliberations and want to keep the city’s annual subsidy of an ice arena to a minimum, if not zero.


“We’re looking at very, very difficult times from a budget standpoint,” Voskuil said.


City Manager Eric Levitt said he would not want to increase the service and the subsidy at a time when cutting of other city services is being considered.


“We are potentially looking at significant budget shortfalls which have yet to be addressed, which could result in some of these other amenities to face cuts,” Perrotto said.


Perrotto would not reveal what programs he was talking about, but just before that comment he was talking about city volleyball and softball leagues.


Tom McDonald, the only “no” vote on the issue, said the city should renovate the old arena rather than risk higher operational costs with a new building.


“If the subsidy increases, the city taxpayers are going to be the ones to pay for this,” McDonald said.


Council member George Brunner said he had heard talk of draining one of two sheets between March and November and using the dry space for indoor sports activities.


Walker said the idea of using the space for indoor soccer, baseball or other sports had been mentioned, but there had been no talks with groups supporting those sports.


Walker said the skating groups did not want to get into the business of holding conventions or weddings, as other ice arenas do, however. He said they didn’t want to compete with private business.


Levitt noted during the meeting that Eau Claire is adding a third sheet to its ice arena at a cost of $5.5 million.


During a break in the meeting, Levitt expressed concern with an estimate that $4 million would be enough to build the one-sheet facility.


The council has set a fundraising deadline before, only to let discussions continue after the deadline had passed. This time, members said, Dec. 31 is final.


“If you don’t reach it by then, then it’s not going to happen,” Perrotto said.


Levitt said in a memo that “basic” renovation of the old arena would cost around $1 million.


Other business

In other business Monday, the Janesville City Council:


-- Committed to spending $400,000 as a 25-percent local match to an Economic Development Administration grant application to build a business incubator at the southeast corner of Beloit Avenue and Venture Drive. The city’s contribution would include a parcel valued at $125,000. The city would be required to operate the center for 20 years.


-- Unanimously approved a change to the city ordinance regarding the open carrying of firearms to comply with state law, which allows open carry under certain restrictions.


-- Approved waiver of the $10,000 fee for a Reserve Class B Liquor License for Fuji Steakhouse, which recently opened at 2235 Milton Ave. after making substantial improvements. The waiver is part of an “economic development grant program” the council adopted in 2002.


-- Approved borrowing $45,000 to build a berm to enlarge the outdoor ice rink at Traxler Park. The work is expected to make the ice-making process more efficient and less costly. The city plans to have the berm ready for the upcoming season


-- Approved a request from the Foundation for the Preservation of 108 S. Jackson for a 5-kilometer run/fundraiser. The run is scheduled for the morning of Saturday, Oct. 2. The event would be based at the Jackson Street address, which is the Janesville Woman’s Club.



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