Panel advocates downtown arena

March 23rd, 2016

News Coverage:

March 22, 2016

Panel advocates downtown arena

Henry ready to take next step

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

The committee tasked with evaluating whether Fort Wayne should build a downtown arena announced Monday it is unanimously recommending the city aggressively pursue the new venue. 

“In the course of our work, we supported the engagement of Hunden Strategic Partners who produced that initial report which was posted on the city’s website last May 19, 2015,” said Chuck Surack, Sweetwater Sound CEO and arena committee chairman. “I believe the Hunden report speaks for itself and is consistent with the findings of our committee.”

The next step is to find a contractor to create schematic drawings of what the arena would look like, Mayor Tom Henry said.

The arena could be one block west of Grand Wayne Center on Jefferson Boulevard. That space is currently occupied by Taco Bell, Rally’s and King Gyros. 

Surack said the committee consulted arena and facility operators from around the country and entertainment promoters, as well as city and county government officials, residents and representatives from existing local venues. 

“Overall, with some reasonable conditions and expectations, the conditions were very positive and supportive, and we were encouraged to move forward with this idea,” Surack said.

The new arena could house high school and college-level sports, musical entertainment and more, Surack said. There are no plans to add ice to the arena, he said. 

“There’s still some events that happen at the Coliseum that we might be able to have at the arena and then free the Coliseum up for some other things that are more appropriately sized out there,” Surack said. “I’d love, personally, to see the Mad Ants go downtown, I think that would fit for most of their games.”

Surack said the committee feels a new arena is “not only desirable but actually necessary” to foster future growth.

There are issues that will need to be addressed moving forward. It’s unclear how the construction project would be financed or how the arena would be funded once completed. There’s also some question as to how the new venue would coexist with Fort Wayne’s existing venues, namely Grand Wayne Center, Embassy Theatre and Memorial Coliseum. 

The arena would seat slightly more than 4,500, Surack said. 

The committee does not recommend the city use property taxes to develop the arena, Surack said, but says the city should explore all other funding options, including an additional 1-cent food and beverage user fee, Legacy Fund money and funding from the Allen County Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board. A bond issue to pay for the arena and other improvements is also possible, Henry said. 

There have been some discussions with private entities about funding for the arena, as well, Henry said. Though the actual cost isn’t yet known, Henry said estimates put the price tag around $65 million. 

Additionally, the committee recommends that the arena should not come at the expense of the Coliseum, rather that the arena should be governed and financed in such a way to ensure that the Coliseum does not suffer financially.

The committee also recommended that management of the arena collaborate with Grand Wayne Center and the Coliseum “to work together to accomplish this objective, maximize efficiency and optimize facility performance.”

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the Allen County commissioners say they are pleased with the committee’s recommendation to explore how to manage the proposed arena in a way that does not hurt the area’s existing venues. 

“The commissioners believe it is important that the long-term interests of the Coliseum be protected and it is their expectation that any new information will be shared with all affected and interested parties in a full and transparent fashion,” the release says. “The commissioners look forward to reviewing and discussing the findings at the appropriate time.”

Henry said he’s not sure of the project’s exact time frame but said he hopes it will be completed as soon as possible.