Consultants unveil their vision for a new multi-use arena downtown
A team of investors and consultants want to tear down what is now Taylor Arena and replace it with a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility.
The group, led by Wisconsin-based Hammes Sports Development Group, on Monday presented the results of a feasibility study on a potential arena to the city council. The report, seven months in the making, was commissioned by the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau (cost unknown).
The plans were far more detailed than expected. They call for the demolition of the Mayo Civic Center's Taylor Arena and the construction of a new facility anchored by a United States Hockey League team. Potential investors, as well as a league representative, were on hand for the meeting.
The group focused their presentation on three proposals, ranging in cost from $55-$75 million (early estimates). Each would be suitable for USHL games, as well as other forms of entertainment like concerts, "pro" wrestling performances and monster truck shows. The results of their study suggest a new arena could host 116 annual events, including 32 hockey games.
Size of the arena
The three different size arenas highlighted in the study range from a maximum capacity of 4,000-6,200 for hockey games. Consultants said an additional 1,000-2,000 more seats would be available for events with floor seating.
Rob Robinson, of Hammes, said the recommended arenas would allow Rochester to compete with other cities in the region for "second tier" events, including some of the top 100-200 grossing tours in the country.
"What we found is La Crosse and Mankato pick up quite a bit of the [entertainment business] in the area," Robinson said.
He also said that with a strong economy and a population growth of 1.3 percent since 2000, Rochester performs very well compared other USHL markets. Their research suggests a team here could average 3,300 spectators per game, higher than the league average.
Contrary to previous reports, the group doesn't want to build the arena in Mayo Park, but instead on the site of the current Taylor Arena. However, renderings indicate that a new arena would spill into the park, eating up between a quarter to a third of the green space.
Though the 6,200-person option would take up the largest piece of Mayo Park, it would also include an outdoor amphitheater facing the river for outdoor concerts. The indoor-outdoor connectivity would keep performers coming to the area through the summer, the slowest time of year for entertainment venues, according to the study.
Brad Jones, executive director of the RCVB, said the group toured other spaces in town, including the Recreation Center and Graham Arena Sports Complex, prior to embarking on the feasibility study. But he said it became "very apparent very quickly" that an arena would need to be built in the downtown district.
Big question is funding
While we now have an idea of how much a new facility would cost, we still have no idea how it would be paid for. Jones said it would require both private and public funding sources, but declined to release any specifics on how much private investment is on the table.
“We’re going to need to know how this is going to be funded," said council member Mark Bilderback. "You talk a lot about public-private partnerships, but what do you mean?”
Only council members Nick Campion and Michael Wojcik spoke out strongly against the idea of throwing public funding into a sports arena. Both argued that given the current needs of the community, an arena is more of a luxury item than a need.
"We're so focused on 'could we?', we need to ask 'should we?'," said Campion, adding that he doesn't see how an arena would tie in with the vision of DMC.
Other members opted against taking a position on the issue before hearing more information on funding. There appeared, though, to be a consensus among council members that the RCVB and its consultants should present their results to other oversight groups, like the DMC Corporation Board and the Mayo Civic Center Commission, before any action is taken.
You can view the full feasibility study by clicking here.
(Cover graphic: Rendering / RCVB)