Indoor sports complex backers look to federal funds for proposed facility | Government

A group trying to raise money for a proposed indoor sports complex hopes federal COVID-19 relief dollars President Joe Biden approved Thursday could help its effort to bring a $33 million facility to Janesville.

Members of the Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex aim to encourage local leaders to dedicate relief funding to the sports complex, which will have long-term economic benefits for industries affected by the coronavirus pandemic, said Bill McCoshen, president of the Janesville Jets and a private fundraising organizer.

The group will meet today for the first time in a year. Members will begin examining the community’s economic landscape to see how to move forward, said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Estimates from the National Association of Counties show Rock County could receive $31.7 million from State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Funding will be funneled directly to counties. The first half will be distributed in the next 60 days, and the other half will be sent out one year later, according to the association.

That money is separate from funding being sent to individuals, schools and businesses, McCoshen said.

Municipalities will receive allocations from the state, McCoshen said, which could mean potentially more money for the sports complex if Janesville receives sufficient relief funding.

In an email to The Gazette, County Administrator Josh Smith said he did not know yet if the sports complex could benefit from the county’s allocation.

“I would have to review the final language of the Act more carefully and possibly wait for further guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department to know where this (or what kinds of expenses more generally) might qualify for use of these funds,” Smith said.

The proposed sports complex at the former Sears building in Uptown Janesville would cost an estimated $33 million. It would include:

  • A main ice rink.
  • A secondary rink with removable ice to transform into multipurpose sports courts or a turf field.
  • Flexible space capable of holding four additional sports courts, a turf field or an additional sheet of ice.
  • Amenities such as a pro shop, medical office, locker rooms, meeting rooms and concessions.
  • Parking.

The complex has been pitched as a private-public partnership, but neither side has been able to commit to an exact contribution yet.

City officials have said they would have to borrow to provide public funding, which ultimately would be paid for by taxpayers.

Federal relief funding could help ease that burden on taxpayers, McCoshen said.

City officials already are struggling with how to handle the city’s annual debt, which has sparked conversations about creating a transportation utility to pay for road maintenance.

City council members have suggested lowering the maximum amount of debt the city could issue to offset a transportation utility. That could affect borrowing for other capital projects, such as the sports complex.

McCoshen and Rebout said they haven’t considered how a transportation utility could affect the sports complex. Progress on the proposal has been temporarily halted but could pick up in spring after a new council is elected.

McCoshen said he hopes the Friends group will come up with funding to begin designing the sports complex this year.

After a year of restrictions caused by the pandemic, people are eager to start traveling and socializing. That could bode well for a strong rebound in hospitality and tourism, Rebout said.

Janesville has seen some of that play out. Hotel occupancy in January 2021 was 5% higher than in January 2020, before the pandemic even started, she said.

But competition for tourism dollars is strong, and the community must work on attracting people to Janesville, Rebout said.

The indoor sports complex would be a 50-plus-years investment for the community and its hospitality industry, said Mason Lyttle, vice president of the Jets.

That’s why the group thinks it would be appropriate to use federal aid.

“This is not one-time money,” McCoshen said. “We will have return on investment for a generation.”

It also would create jobs, Rebout said.

”Regardless of whether you use this or not, it is going to benefit your life,” Lyttle said.

No donors have officially committed to the project, McCoshen said. The Friends group has a list of potential donors, and organizers will reach out to them first before branching out, McCoshen said.

Rebout, McCoshen and Lyttle said they think the indoor sports complex is feasible and still has community support.

Size, scope and location are all still on the table and could be adjusted to enhance overall feasibility, McCoshen said.