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Donors front $3.75 million for proposed Janesville indoor sports complex

JANESVILLE

If the proposed indoor ice arena and sports complex at Uptown Janesville comes to fruition, it likely will be named after Woodman’s Food Market, a group of stakeholders who are raising private funds for the project has announced.

The Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex made known this week that they have secured $3.75 million in private donations. That includes a $2 million donation from the Janesville-based supermarket chain.

The agreement means that Woodman’s has garnered naming rights for the future $33 million sports complex proposed for a now-vacant anchor store space in Janesville’s main shopping mall.

Christine Rebout, who directs the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is co-chairperson of the Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex.

Rebout said fundraising for a two-sheet ice arena and a 20,000-square-foot “flexible use” sports and convention space is coming together after being on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In just the last month or two, Rebout said, fundraising has surged to total roughly half the group’s goal of $7 million in private funding for the project.

As recently as March, the friends group told The Gazette the group had secured no major donors for the indoor sports complex.

The group last year was prepared to enter an initial design phase for the project alongside the city of Janesville, which is a public partner in the project and the entity that likely would become owner of the sports complex.

But when the pandemic hit in mid-2020, the sports complex friends shelved fundraising efforts and asked the city to hold off on design work for the project, saying the global COVID-19 crisis was the wrong time to try to raise millions of dollars for a public-private project.

This summer, when the group rekindled its capital campaign, major donors began to step forward quickly, Rebout said.

“We’ve probably secured these major donors in the last 45 days or so. It seems that once people felt more secure coming through the pandemic, they’ve continued to believe in this project. They now have the comfort level to go ahead and sign on,” Rebout said.

Alongside Woodman’s donation, the sports complex friends announced Janesville-based health care group Mercyhealth has agreed to donate $1.25 million to garner naming rights for the 1,600-seat main ice rink.

The main rink and seating is intended to be the new home of the Janesville Jets hockey team.

The Kennedy Family Foundation, the charitable arm of Janesville-headquartered road-building firm Rock Road Companies, has agreed to donate $500,000 to sponsor the flex space—a 20,000-square-foot space the friends group said could be used during weekdays to host larger-scale conventions and trade shows, Rebout said.

On weekends, the flex space’s floor could be set up with turf or a hard court for sports and activities such as soccer, lacrosse, baseball, basketball—even dance.

Rebout said the flex space would double as the largest professional meeting space in Janesville. That is an emerging concept that Rebout said could boost the project’s prospects because it would guarantee the sports complex another source of revenue and foot traffic outside of sports events.

It also could present the hard-bitten local hospitality industry—most of which is located within a mile or two of Uptown Janesville—a possible influx of business.

“It’s what makes the project work. It makes the cash flow throughout the year and throughout the week, adding the ability to do midweek business, meetings and conference events Tuesday through Thursday,” Rebout said. “A lot of people said, ‘Can you downsize the facility and take that out?’ Not if we want it to cash flow and make money.”

Uptown Janesville, the indoor shopping mall formerly known as the Janesville Mall, has long been identified as the likely site for the sports complex project. Like many malls nationwide, Uptown Janesville has seen a continued hollowing out of its retail spaces over the last decade. At least three large-scale department stores have left vacancies.

The mall’s owner, RockStep Capital, supports the city owning a sports complex there.

Last year, boosters of the project began to favor reuse of the vacant former Sears store on the mall’s west side. The former Sears faces Milton Avenue, one of the city’s busiest arterial streets. The former Sears store is currently occupied by a seasonal Halloween store.

The sports complex project hasn’t progressed to the design phase yet, but Rebout said all parties, including the city, the mall’s owner and the friends group, are in agreement that the former Sears space and part of the open lot alongside Sears remains the ideal spot for the complex.

Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said he has met with the sports complex friends group and the mall’s ownership a few times in the past few months. He said the major dynamics of the proposal haven’t changed since fundraising for the sports complex was paused due to the pandemic.

Freitag called the prospect of millions of dollars in new private investment for the sports complex “exciting.”

He said the city council will likely consider later this year giving the go-ahead for design work. That will determine the likely cost of the project.

In the two years since the sports complex friends group began publicly pursuing funding, the estimated price tag for the project has been $30 million to $33 million. However, construction costs have increased over the past year amid bottlenecks in labor and materials.

Rebout said the friends group will continue fundraising throughout the fall, and depending on the city’s preferences, design work might get underway sometime within the next few months.


An early-morning bicyclist cruises along the Ice Age Trail through Monterey Park in Janesville as the sun rises Wednesday.


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 16, 2021

Diane Ruth (Fredrich) Allen

Harold E. “Dewey” Anderson

John B. Shier

Adulphus Williams

Jacqueline Wilson

Judith Mary (Luedtke) Zastrow


Officials: Nearly 400 Afghan evacuees to be resettled in Wisconsin

Wisconsin will be the new home for about 400 Afghan evacuees after they complete their immigration process.

A state official said Wednesday afternoon that the Biden administration is expecting 399 refugees to be resettled within Wisconsin, although no information has been released as to where within the state.

That number could change, the official said, but for now the state and resettlement agencies are preparing for 399.

The news of resettlement plans comes as flights of Afghan evacuees coming to the U.S. have temporarily been halted after six confirmed cases of measles in people who have already arrived.

Three senior U.S. government officials in a Tuesday afternoon phone briefing did not release where those cases are located nor did they say when flights of evacuees into the U.S. would resume again.

“We are approaching the situation with the utmost caution and care, as we have the responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of every person that’s part of this mission,” an official said. “That includes not only the individuals we’re caring for as far as Afghans coming into the United States, but our employees and ultimately the community.”

Afghan evacuees already in the U.S. who were diagnosed are being treated, and all others are being vaccinated against the disease as a part of a series of vaccines required to be able to leave the base after their immigration status is finalized.

One case has been confirmed at Fort McCoy, where about 12,500 people are now living, and all the Afghan evacuees on the base are being vaccinated for measles, said Cheryl Phillips, the director of public affairs for Task Force McCoy—Operation Allies Welcome. The case was diagnosed Sept. 5, and the guest was placed in quarantine. Since then, no other guests have been diagnosed with measles.

Phillips said the evacuees are also being screened for tuberculosis, and in addition to the MMR vaccine are receiving the polio vaccine to protect public health.

All the guests on the base are being vaccinated against COVID-19, with only a small number of people turning down the shot. So far, fewer than two dozen people have tested positive for COVID-19, and about 125 additional people are being quarantined after being identified as at risk for the disease through contact tracing, Phillips said.

Outside the base, Monroe County, where Fort McCoy is located, has a rate of about 16 diagnosed cases per day, according to data from the New York Times.

The officials outlined that the majority of Afghan people who have arrived in the U.S. and who will arrive once restrictions are lifted worked directly with U.S. troops, including military, diplomatic and developmental efforts, or are a family member of someone who worked with Americans. Others were journalists, human rights activists or humanitarian workers with careers that put them at risk.

One of the officials said intelligence and defense officials from across the government are working to get people vetted quickly, but they’re not sacrificing any national security in the process.

“The U.S. government’s work includes ensuring evacuees are thoroughly and appropriately vetted prior to arrival in the U.S.,” an official said. “And we’ve also made sure that evacuees are thoroughly screened at ports of entry and tested for COVID upon arrival, with less than a 1% positive rate thus far.”

The evacuees, once they complete the necessary processes to gain their special immigration status, will be aided by a group of nine resettlement agencies and their 200 local affiliates around the country, one official said. Placements prioritize reunification with family or friends already in the U.S., as well as considering other needs and characteristics of each case.

“Other factors that can determine where Afghans will be relocated include reasonable housing, job opportunities and community capacity,” an official said. “The local agencies will provide assistance with critical needs such as housing, enrolling children in school and basic necessities such as food, clothing and furnishings during the first 30 to 90 days in their new communities.”

Refugees will be resettled in 150 different communities around the country, but officials did not say where those communities are.

Officials said the outpouring of support from Americans has helped to ensure resources from corporations and industries, including job offers, hotel rooms and even Airbnbs for those in search of permanent housing.

“We encourage people who are interested in assisting arriving Afghans to reach out to their local resettlement agency to learn about ways to help,” an official said. “There are many opportunities to be involved in welcoming Afghans and helping them to rebuild their lives in the U.S.”

Government working to address issues at bases like McCoy

Officials also addressed rumors that adult men with child brides have been brought to the U.S. as a part of the evacuation from Afghanistan.

An official said the U.S. State Department is working to identify any child welfare issues on bases where evacuees are staying. When the department is notified of something, they look into the specific case history, the age of the child and the length of the marriage to determine if there is a risk to the child’s safety.

Fort McCoy officials are also working to address issues with food supply, a lack of new clothing and reports of harassment, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report. Officials said the base did experience issues with getting enough food for the large number of people being brought in, but the issue is being addressed and evacuees are being given three hot meals a day.

As for clothing, officials are asking for more donations of new or gently used clothing, especially winter clothes as the weather begins to turn, the State Journal story said. Many of the people at the base were not able to bring anything with them as they fled Afghanistan and are in need of clothing to keep them warm in the cooler climate.


Local
Castle is couple's dream home, gathering place

FARMINGTON

The sun is barely up on a Wednesday morning and Dianne Owens is sipping a cup of coffee as she takes a reporter on a tour of her relatively new dream home, a medieval-themed castle in, of all places, the Jefferson County countryside.

“I’m here 24/7,” Owens said of the almost-constant attention she gives to her breathtaking castle home.

Owens, a self-described “historian” and frequent traveler to Ireland, has been a graphic artist working from home for the past three decades. Her home and occupation have allowed her to channel her creativity into painting the castle’s interior walls, upholstering furniture and rehabbing objects that further dress the place up in style.

Owens aims for the house to engender a mood and theme that she and her husband, Paul Elliot, can market. Their goal is to create a quiet, secluded place in the country where people want to get married, hold business meetings or throw baby showers.

When visitors are not present, the couple will treat most of the spaces in the 11,000-square-foot structure as their living quarters.

The pair moved closer to seeing their vision for their home become a reality Tuesday night when the Jefferson County Board directed its zoning and planning committee to help the couple achieve their dream.

The committee will likely come back to the board in October with a way for Owens and Elliot to market their home as a gathering place.

The outpouring of support from local residents and the 25 supervisors present at Tuesday evening’s county board meeting left Owens hopeful

She said she was thankful to Dale and Terri Roznik, who began building the house in 2008 but were forced to leave the project unfinished when Dale died in 2011.

The home was in foreclosure when Owens and Elliot bought it in July 2020 for a reduced price of $500,000. They were made aware of the unique living space through a real-estate agent friend of Owens.

“She told me, ‘This home reminds me of you,’” Owens said of her friend.

The home has numerous rooms, from a large chapel with pews from a church in Whitewater to a reception room with fireplace and 18-foot-high ceiling to more intimate spaces, like a replica English pub.

Owens said she is “very excited” about the potential future of her home as a place that is “apolitical, non-denominational and where anyone is welcome.”

“We are very excited and optimistic about the future now,” Owens said in light of the county board’s action this week. “We want this place to become a treasure.”


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