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.

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