Janesville welcomed our hockey Jets almost 10 years ago, and the response was and continues to be positive. The community and businesses have supported the organization, and Jets ownership and the young men on the team have weaved themselves into the fabric of our city.
In addition to the Jets’ success, youth hockey continues to grow in numbers, and ice time in general is at a premium. This was all done at a property with an aging shell and a rehabbed ice system. With all this growth and positive momentum, a new complex is a slam dunk, right? Well…
I haven’t necessarily been a naysayer of the new sports complex, but I haven’t waved the pom-poms as a huge supporter, either. It’s not because I don’t like hockey or ice, but the project has felt like “cart before the horse,” even in the concept phase. The initial talk, the survey and the consultants—something just seemed off.
Fast forward to the last month, and Janesville now finds itself on a path that seems to be attached to the Janesville Mall. The Plan Commission, which I am a part of, voted unanimously to recommend the mall in general with the Youth Sports Complex as an alternative site. This vote did not take into consideration any financial implications. I personally wasn’t aware of a price tag.
Next, city officials came forward: $33 million. Gulp. That is a huge swallow, and, frankly, it’s something that is not sustainable without a significant financial step-up by private supporters. I was waiting to hear from the group that originally stepped up to fund and hoped they’d be able to fund more. Jets President Bill McCoshen wasn’t able to guarantee his team could close the funding gap.
Up next, the mall’s owners, RockStep Capital. While it offered its site for one dollar, surely RockStep would be willing to offer additional funds considering its property and tenants will benefit for years. I haven’t heard a word as of yet.
Let me be clear, I appreciate everything community leaders are doing to make our city a wonderful one.
That said, I believe there is a bit of tunnel vision as we look at a new sports complex. Do I think we need a “complex” to keep the Jets and continue to feed the youth program? Does it need to be at the mall? Maybe not.
Maybe a simple facility downtown that is North American Hockey League compliant is all we need so we can continue to enjoy what we have. Yes, downtown. Hockey is a destination. I’d rather have visitors drive to our central city to enjoy all our city has to offer rather than quickly jump off the Interstate, skate and drive away.
To harken back to the days of our old industry, I ask, do we need a Cadillac or can we settle for a Chevy? I think an ice rink at a smaller price tag in a different location might work. That’s what our city council will need to wrestle with in the coming months.