If someone builds it, will they come? That’s the $33 million question in Janesville right now.
It used to be an $8 million question. Actually, it began as a $200,000 question in 2010 when the city made several improvements to the Janesville Ice Arena. Those improvements were enough to bring the Jets hockey team to Janesville. Then in 2012, the city renovated the arena for $2.5 million, solidifying the city’s relationship with the Jets.
However, as investment advisors like to say, past results are no guarantee of future performance.
With every “second look” at the new proposed indoor sports complex, the price goes up along with the complex’s functionality. I’m not suggesting that’s necessarily bad. But the ever-changing scope of the project coupled with the uncertainty about its location and ultimate cost give me great reason for pause.
Those who would utilize the facility are its champions no matter what the questions or uncertainty. They are the if-you-build-it-they-will-come crowd. While they might not be wrong (and often the optimists are the reason for successful project outcomes), there should be an understanding of the questions less enthusiastic residents have. Some of those question are:
1) What is the cost to the taxpayers? (This seems impossible to know until the actual project costs and the size of any private-sector contributions to the project are determined. None of this has been done to date).
2) Who would invest in the facility? (Or the parallel question: If it’s such a viable project, why aren’t investors already lined up with checkbooks in hand?)
3) Where will the facility be? (The city council has decided somewhere at the Janesville Mall. A consultant says the facility should have Milton Avenue frontage. That’s at odds with the mall’s contracts with some retailers. No apparent discussion has been had on the possibility of “buying out” those contracts. Investors will likely have different feelings depending on the site.)
4) Why all the attention to “ice”? (I defer to the analysis of hockey experts regarding the need for ice. However, a proposed third “flexible court” seems more loosely defined than many residents would like.)
I will offer one other point of discussion. Just before the city council decided on the complex location, the owner of the Janesville Athletic Club announced a renovation that would seem to offer many services that a “sports complex” should. Mark Groshan made the announcement after waiting to observe what the city’s project would provide. He then apparently made the decision to move forward, indicating that the city’s project left gaps that the athletic club would be able to fill. This leads to more questions:
5) With a private company already announcing a financial investment to provide similar services to the city’s “flexible court” portion of its proposed sports complex, what is the city missing that the athletic club obviously still considers profitable to add to its facility?
6) Is the city pursuing a discussion with Mr. Groshan on the possibility of aligning their mutual projects and potentially developing the first private partner?
I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here, but it would seem that when there are more questions than answers, maybe tapping the brakes until they can be answered wouldn’t be the worst idea.