Plans moving quickly on new sports arena in downtown Rochester
Just months into the Destination Medical Center's implementation phase, plans for a new sports arena in downtown Rochester are starting to gain momentum.
Two sources have confirmed to the Med City Beat that the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau is working closely with a group of investors to finance a new facility behind the Mayo Civic Center.
The civic center is already undergoing an $85 million renovation and expansion project. However, the project is primarily focused on creating new convention and meeting space, while only minor upgrades are being made to the center's Taylor Arena.
The bureau's executive director, Brad Jones, declined to mention any specifics on the plans for a new facility, though he did confirm it would involve both public and private funding sources.
"We are currently doing a feasibility study on a multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue in Rochester," he said in an email. "The study should be done and ready to be shared in late September (I am hopeful) so we will be providing information at that point."
The sources, both of whom requested anonymity, said the new arena would be built out of Taylor Arena and into Mayo Park, likely impacting the popular Down by the Riverside concert series.
The seating capacity of the new facility could range from 6,000 to 9,000 people, according to one source. It's unclear what kind of parking and/or transit upgrades would be made to accommodate the large crowds.
Months in the making
Plans to build a new arena appear to be connected to a push to bring a United States Hockey League team back to Rochester.
Jason Feldman of the Post-Bulletin reported in late July that a group of investors had been in talks with the league about placing an expansion team here. The USHL, which consists of 17 teams across the Midwest, is considered the top junior hockey league in the country.
Rochester was home to a USHL team, the Mustangs, until 2002 when the team ended operations due to poor attendance and inadequate facilities.
"Our ice arena is lagging far behind other cities of our size," wrote Ed Hruska, the executive director of the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission, in a blog post published around the same time as the P-B report. Hruska also serves on both the city council and the DMC Corporation Board.
"Whether you speak of the Rec Center or the Graham Complex, both are aging facilities and have little of the arena amenities quality rinks offer," he said. "They serve the city's recreational need very well, providing for local youth hockey programs and figure skating needs, but to draw or host higher end teams and events they won't compete."
The Ice Hawks, a Tier III junior hockey team, play their home games at the Rochester Recreation Center. But with a maximum capacity of about 2,500, the rec center would be a little small for a USHL team.
The average attendance for a USHL game this past season was 2,715. However, some teams in similar-size cities — including Green Bay and Fargo — averaged well over 3,000 spectators per home game.
The Graham Complex, which has four NHL-size ice rinks, can only hold up 1,700 people for one event. The Taylor Arena, on the other hand, can hold up 4,500 spectators, but lacks a permanent refrigeration system.
More entertainment offerings
A new arena would surely attract bigger names to Rochester.
Just take a look at the Resch Center in Green Bay. Home to the USHL's Gamblers, the Resch holds about 10,000 people and routinely draws big-name performers like Brad Paisley, Elton John and the Eagles.
Built in 2002 for just under $50 million, the venue is also used for indoor football, on-ice theater and amateur sports tournaments.
With so few details at this point, it's hard to estimate how much the proposed facility in Rochester would cost. The scope and size of the project will likely depend on how much private investors are willing to put up, as well as what public funding options are available.
Regardless of the outcome, the proposal sends a clear message: Rochester wants to compete for the best sports and entertainment options in the region — and a new arena may just be the tipping point.
Just the start
In his column, Hruska also indicated he would like the city to look at the possibility of building a new baseball stadium.
"Our baseball field is now falling apart and is losing more of its very limited parking each year," he said, referring to Mayo Field, home of the Rochester Honkers. "It has been kept up as best as possible but the end is near."
Built in 1951, Mayo Field is now one of the most outdated parks in the Northwoods League. And the poor facility clearly isn't helping attendance: the Honkers averaged 1,037 spectators per home game this summer, the third lowest total in the league.
"Let's imagine a new, high-quality, multi-purpose baseball stadium with plenty of parking to handle numerous events annually – from concerts to games to festival gatherings," said Hruska.
"We have nice facilities today but we are lagging behind the progressive cities that have committed to investing in this form of entertainment value."
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover photo: File / Kate Kraverska / CC)