Monday could be one those days that help determine the course of Janesville’s future. The city council will consider approving a recommendation to anoint the Janesville Mall as the preferred location for a $33 million indoor sports complex, giving city officials the OK to pursue negotiations with the mall’s owner, RockStep Capital.
While the project has many cheerleaders, there are several potential snares along the path to the complex’s completion. The latest one could involve the Janesville Athletic Club.
The club’s owner, Mark Groshan, hasn’t objected to the complex proposal, but some city council members might be tempted to scale back the proposal to accommodate the athletic club’s plans to create more recreational space at its facility on Black Bridge Road.
That would be a mistake.
The athletic club is, of course, free to build its own indoor sports complex with a turf field, regardless of the council’s decision Monday. But the city council should avoid altering its plan so that the city’s sports complex wouldn’t directly compete with the athletic club’s.
We encourage the city council to take the long view. We have no reason to believe the athletic club would fail in its venture, but the city’s complex plan is the surer bet. A $33 million city facility likely would service Janesville residents for decades, while the city would have no control over the athletic club’s future.
Furthermore, scaling back the city’s plans would generate less revenue for complex operations and ultimately less foot traffic for the mall. The Janesville Mall proposal has gathered momentum over the past several weeks in large part because it would fill two distinct needs. A sports complex would help the city meet increasing demand for recreational space, and it would provide much-needed foot traffic for the mall.
There’s a lot of upside potential with this proposal, but plenty could still go wrong. As the city enters negotiations with RockStep, it will need to leverage its position to strike the best deal possible for taxpayers.
As we advised in last Sunday’s editorial, the city should press RockStep to make a capital contribution to the project. The mall has already offered the former JCPenney site for free, but we believe the city should ask for more.
The reality is, the city cannot finance the entire price tag without hitting its debt limit. It needs to persuade the private sector to help fund the complex’s construction.
To get to the point of breaking ground on this project, the city will need to overcome multiple competing interests: A larger complex would cost more to build, but it would operate more efficiently in the long run. A larger complex might compete with some businesses, but it would benefit many others, including those inside the mall.
The city is touting the project as public-private partnership, but the public side (the taxpayer) and the private side (the complex’s primary users) must agree to pay their “fair share.” What constitutes each side’s “fair share” has become the project’s $33 million question.
Finally, the interests of neighbors living near the proposed complex must also be considered.
The path to getting this project approved is proving tougher to navigate than we and others initially thought. We’re likely to soon find out if the city council is up to the challenge.