The Racine Common Council voted 10 to 5 Tuesday in favor of spending $600,000 from its intergovernmental revenue fund to pay for the first phase of a $43 to $49 million downtown arena and hotel/events center project.
Aldermen Mollie Jones (2nd Dist.), Sandy Weidner (6th Dist.), Steve Smetana (5th Dist.), Michael Shields (3rd Dist.), and Melissa Lemke (15th Dist) voted against the project.
The Committee of the Whole voted 14 to 1 last week to hire Madison-based Hammes Company Sports Development to complete the first of three phases in developing the project. But the project isn’t a done deal. The Common Council has two more phases it will need to pass before the project starts.
Weidner explained that there were several reasons why she didn’t vote for the spending measure: That she believed the authority of the Common Council had been diminished by the Redevelopment Authority, that the city shouldn’t undertake the arena project and Machinery Row at the same time, and she hasn’t heard from anyone in her district that supports the project.
“What that says to this Council is that any development activity that the administration wants to undertake, they don’t have to come to the elected body. They just have to go to the appointed body,” Weidner said. “Voting for the recommendation to fund phase one of the arena would just support that argument that this Council no longer has the authority to vote on any kind of redevelopment… We cannot allow that to happen.”
But Alderman Dennis Wiser told the Common Council that he wasn’t concerned about the RDA undermining the Common Council’s authority.
“The process has been explained to us, and there are several steps in the process,” Wiser said. “As long as the Council holds the purse strings, I think we have way more say about what does and doesn’t happen.
Smetana said he couldn’t vote for the project because he didn’t have enough answers.
“I felt bad for them… but I just couldn’t give them the straight answers they needed,” he said.
A number of people spoke against the arena, but a few were in favor of it. This was a stark difference compared to last week when the Committee of the Whole voted to hire Hammes.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Ken Brown, owner of EyeOpenerz. “There are arena’s like this built all around the country… and the public always ends up losing money.”
Dickert said many of those who commented publicly failed to put the project into context.
The project includes a 130-room hotel, conference and meeting space, and a 3,000 to 5,000 seat multi-purpose event center. A USHL hockey team is expected to be its first tenant. It is expected to bring in 600 to 800 jobs, 50,000 new visitors to the city, and $322 million in new spending over the next 30 years.
“Everyone from the 700 to 800 people who need jobs… which the naysayers totally ignored,” Dickert said. “They were talking about unemployment, even though we’ve cut unemployment from 17 percent to 5 percent. And there are 700 to 800 jobs here… not one negative person mentioned that.
“I think it was utterly disrespectful to those people looking for jobs to ignore them.”
Related story: City Releases Answers To Arena, Events Center Questions