It will likely take upward of a year of work, but the Janesville City Council’s 5-2 vote to move the proposed indoor sports and convention center at Uptown Janesville into its design phase is being viewed as the kick-start for a $25 million to $28 million proposal officials are calling “transformative.”
It took more than two straight hours of public testimonials, presentations and city council debate, but on Monday night, the council gave its blessing for city staff to access up to $2 million to spend on contracts for architectural designs for a two-sheet ice arena and sports and convention flex space where the former Sears store now stands at Uptown Janesville.
The vote came even though three council members initially voiced skepticism over the speed at which they think the massive public-private project is moving and the fact the city intends to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay for design work for such a project.
On Monday, the council listened to 17 residents—many members of the local youth ice hockey community—talk up the project. More than one Janesville high school student told city officials they would view the project as a sign of progress for families in Janesville, the local economy, and the scuffling retail and hospitality sectors on the city’s east side.
City of Janesville to ask council to spend $2 million in COVID-19 rescue funds on designs for new ice arena
The Janesville City Council will consider spending up to $2 million on designs for a project that would replace the former Sears store at the mall with a 1,600-seat ice arena, plus another ice rink and a "flex space" for conferences and other events.
The council didn’t actually approve the project Monday, but a 5-2 vote provided a vote of confidence that a public-private replacement of the current 58-year-old ice arena south of downtown could happen.
It wouldn’t likely happen until 2024—and that’s if the council approves the project according to a timeline that envisions site preparations and construction at the mall kicking off in early 2023, according to a city proposal.
But the prospect of a new sports complex at 2500 Milton Ave. had some of the city’s youth waxing philosophical about the significance of the project.
Jake Schaffner, a youth hockey player who attends Craig High School, said ice time is so limited at the existing arena that some young players have to get up for school after staying out until 10:30 p.m. for hockey practice.
Schaffner will soon graduate from high school. While he said he might not benefit directly from a new sports complex, he predicted who might.
“Maybe my kids will,” he said.
Council members Paul Williams and Heather Miller both voted against pushing the project into a design phase. Williams wanted another few weeks before voting so he could mull over the prospect more.
Miller said she thought there were more pressing community needs to spend the American Rescue Act funds that the city recently was awarded than on plans for a project she said the council might ultimately never approve.
The Friends of the Indoor Sport Complex, a private group of stakeholders that has sought for four years to build a new ice arena and sports and convention complex, recently announced it has raised nearly $4 million in donor funds for the project.
The council’s approval of using $2 million in rescue funds the city was awarded to bridge revenue gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic is viewed as the next phase in committing financially for the city, which has provisionally pledged up to $15 million for the project.
City Manager Mark Freitag said if the city pursued a 20-year payback schedule on the project, it would cost residents an average of about $25 per family annually.
For its part in the project, the friends group says it plans to continue to pursue another $3.5 million in possible grant funds, and its goal is to raise $7 million in donations.
Uptown Janesville’s owner, RockStep Capital, is offering to give the city of Janesville the former Sears building, but both Jennifer Petruzzello, the city’s director of neighborhood services, and friends group member and Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Christine Rebout said RockStep won’t hold the property aside for an undetermined amount of time.
The mall has been working to fill its retail vacancies, and while Uptown Janesville has been tabbed as the front-runner to land the two-sheet ice arena and flex space for other sports and weekday business expos and conventions, the proposal got effectively shelved for a year during pandemic upheaval in 2020.
Petruzzello said she estimates it likely won’t cost the full $2 million to work up designs, which would mean that some leftover funds could be applied to other areas.
Karl Anderson, manager of the AmericInn hotel, said dozens of local hospitality businesses on the east side would benefit from a sports and convention complex that could draw thousands of people a week, including business event bookings that would lead to overnight stays in Janesville.
Council President Douglas Marklein said he believes Janesville has turned a corner by offering up funds to design the long-in-the-works project.
“We used to be the city that said no,” Marklein said.
This story has been amended from a previous version to reflect the accurate, estimated cost of an indoor sports complex to taxpayers. The cost would be $25 per residential family over a 20-year period.
A reporter’s rule: Never, ever become part of the story.
But a lot of people have asked me about my retirement after 31 years here at The Gazette, so here are some parting words, written on my last day, Monday.
One of my former colleagues suggested my retirement signals the end of an era. But the era ended about 12 years ago.
The General Motors plant that gave Janesville its identity and injected untold wealth into the area had shut down. The Great Recession was around the corner. Newspapers everywhere were already dealing with the loss of our major source of revenue, advertising dollars, which migrated to the internet. Bad news was on the doorstep.
The Gazette laid off good friends at the end of 2008, and more of the same was coming in the years that followed as bosses tried to keep the doors open. They cut expenses. Your daily paper got smaller. And smaller.
The Gazette didn’t fold, but Skip Bliss, whose family had owned the paper since 1883, had to sell in 2019.
The new owners, Adams Publishing Group, inherited a tough business and kept on cutting, like nearly every newspaper in America.
I was hired in 1990 when the Gazette was expanding. We had no idea then that massive forces—the internet, social media and relentless pressure for profits—would bring us so low.
It’s been a sad state of affairs for you readers. No matter how hard reporters and editors work, they can never match those glory days. They don’t have the resources.
But the paper is still worth the cover price, I think. Let’s face it: Newspapers remain unmatched when it comes to going deep into a story, something TV and radio can’t match.
It broke my heart to watch this business wither. Some of my colleagues saw the writing on the wall and got out. Others didn’t leave on their own terms.
I survived the cuts and was always grateful for the talented, courageous people who helped me be a better news reporter:
Schwartz later became my mentor when I took over the crime-and-punishment beat and he became my editor. Schwartz’s predecessor, Scott Angus, taught me to keep it simple, be direct and have fun with the writing.
Many other reporters and editors taught me in innumerable ways. I learned so much by just sitting with them in the newsroom and hearing them work. Thank you.
I spent most of my time at The Gazette on two beats, education and the criminal justice system. Those two institutions were going through huge upheavals. I was privileged to watch that history unfold.
Many community members gave me insights into their worlds over the years. The ones that come to mind today are Wanda Sloan, Marc Perry, Chief Dave Moore, Bob Baldwin, Santo Carfora, John Eyster, Neil and Kay Deupree, Colleen Neumann, Roberta Sample and Stan Milam. Tomorrow I will kick myself for not remembering many others. Thank you all for your passion in serving the community.
To the colleagues still doing the work: I know you will carry on. You are David to the Goliaths of this world or Jacks facing down the giants.
Like Jack and David, you have your wits and your desire to make things better. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remember how powerful those assets are. Good luck as you continue to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Looking back, despite the emotional grind and low pay, it’s been a good career. I learned so much and was privileged to report local history, such as Janesville’s Paul Ryan running for vice president and speeches by presidential candidates John Kerry, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
I was here to report on murders, opioid addiction and the brief, ugly surge of the Ku Klux Klan in the mid-1990s. I reported on political demonstrations, the bodies of fallen soldiers coming home and too many meetings about schools, referendums and taxes.
But when people ask me for my favorites, I will remember the days when it didn’t seem like work. The summer of 2019 was like that: I flew with WWII fliers in a B-25, walked on a remnant of the great prairie that once covered this part of the world and crawled into some long-forgotten beer cellars under a Janesville hillside.
Thank you, Janesville, for telling me your stories. You, and I, have more stories left in us.
Carol Allison (Hinderlie) Bailey
John Edward Clair
Dr. William G. “Jerry” Hicks DVM
Darrin J. Iverson
Dennis Eugene Lauer
Lilas Evelyn Miller
Dixie Lee (Christenson) Ripley
David Allen Thorp
The Janesville School District said Monday it was the victim of a ransomware attack that locked district servers and network resources, including Wi-Fi access and printing services at all Janesville schools, according to a message posted on the district’s website.
The district information technology team noticed irregularities in the district’s network and found what appeared to be ransomware code in its servers, according to the message, which pops up when first accessing the district’s site.
The IT team contacted the state of Wisconsin’s Division of Enterprise Technology Cyber Response Team, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which are investigating the issue.
Dr. Robert Smiley, chief information officer for the district, said district employees are following the cyber response team’s lead in the investigation.
He said the first priority is to reestablish internet access for students and staff because district schools access many learning resources via the internet.
No data had been accessed or destroyed, according to the message, but the ransomware had locked students, staff members and families out of various district systems and programs such as Infinite Campus, Classlink, and web-based textbooks and other resources.
“We did notify staff last night once we became aware of what was happening, or what we believed to be happening, and tried to get as many of them as prepared as possible to essentially teach in the traditional manner today,” said Patrick Gasper, public information officer for the district.
Telephones, security cameras and paging systems within the schools have not been affected, and systems such as Google mail and Google Classroom were still accessible via cellular data or through non-district Wi-Fi, according to the message at the district website.
Smiley appreciated the community’s patience and assured students and families that the incident is not a result of a lack of security.
“Ransomware is happening to the best companies and school districts around the globe,” he said.
The investigation is currently in the discovery phase, and Smiley said the district is not able to project when repairs will be completed. The district said in its message on its website that it had not received a “ransom note indicating any demands.”
“Obviously, it’s impacting learning,” Smiley said. “It becomes a priority to get back up and running, and internet access will be the first thing that we’ll work on reestablishing.”
The message said the district’s IT team is still working to address the situation, and the district said it will provide updates as the situation changes.