City officials and the owner of the Janesville Mall have negotiated a plan that fundraisers hope will make the indoor sports complex proposal more attractive to prospective donors.
The new plan puts the sports complex on the site of the former Sears store, making it visible from Milton Avenue, Janesville’s busiest commercial corridor, Neighborhood and Community Services Director Jennifer Petruzzello said.
The move should make the project more appealing to major donors, Janesville Jets President Bill McCoshen said. McCoshen is leading the private fundraising efforts, and his North American Hockey League team would be one of the facility’s primary beneficiaries.
So far, no donors have committed to the project, McCoshen said.
The city council heard from Petruzzello, McCoshen and Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Christine Rebout about fundraising efforts for the facility during its meeting Monday night.
The Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex group formed late last year to focus on gathering private contributions for the complex.
The sports complex would be paid for by a combination of private and public funds with the city acting as owner and operator. But there are still a number of hoops officials must jump through to make it happen.
The Friends group has reached out to 30 potential major local and regional donors, Rebout said.
Donors expressed interest in the project but had questions, mainly about location and visibility. The original plan had the sports complex replacing the former JCPenney space, closer to the intersection of Holiday Drive and Liberty Lane than Milton Avenue. The change to the former Sears location is a key factor in the Friends’ fundraising strategy, McCoshen said.
Donors would want their names and logos to be visible from Milton Avenue, he said.
Some donors said they would prefer a downtown location for the complex, but several committees, the plan commission and the city council preferred the mall location over a downtown location. A site on the east side near the existing youth sports complex was chosen as a secondary site.
The Friends group is now working with potential donors to answer questions and get fundraising commitments, Rebout said.
The city is continuing to negotiate details of the project with mall owner RockStep Capital, Petruzzello said.
Project costs are expected to change at the new site. Demolition of the former Sears is expected to cost more than the demolition of JCPenney would have, Petruzzello said.
RockStep’s offer to give the city the space for free and to pay to relocate affected mall tenants still stands, Petruzzello said.
The new plan preliminarily calls for the sports complex to take up the former Sears space and cut into other store and parking space, Petruzzello said.
Conversations between the mall and city will continue through April 13, when the council will be asked to approve funding for construction design, Petruzzello said.
The fundraising group is also exploring other funding sources including grants, the federal New Markets Tax Credit program and a potential new state program.
The state Assembly recently passed Assembly Bill 895 which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Tony Evers, would offer $5 million to athletic facility projects across the state, McCoshen said.
Projects would be eligible up to receive up to $1 million for construction of or improvements to athletic or aquatic facilities, according to the bill.
Janesville would have to compete with other communities looking to get a piece of the $5 million, McCoshen said.
Council member Paul Benson said he is excited about the project and asked Petruzzello to report on anticipated user groups for the complex.
Council President Rich Gruber encouraged the Friends group to be diligent and focused moving forward.
”Come back with a product you can be proud of as opposed to just a product,” Gruber said.