During a Committee of the Whole, Racine’s Common Council took a step closer to making the final decision on whether to build a $43 to $49 million arena, and hotel/convention center downtown.

In a 14 to 1 vote, the Committee voted 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.

If the project receives final approval, the city will develop the arena and a private investor will build the hotel/convention center.

“This decision reinforces that we are all moving forward in one direction to continue to build downtown Racine,” said Amy Connolly, director of the city’s development department. “Through this development, Racine will experience a renaissance that will reinforce the pride that we feel to live, work and raise our families here.”

The arena and hotel project 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.

First Step of Several

The first phase of the project is expected to cost about $600,000, which the city will pay for out of its intergovernmental revenue (IGR) funds. That money comes from surrounding communities that have agreements with the city for its sewer and water service, not the city taxpayers.

Alderman Melissa Lemke (15th District), who was the only dissenting vote, said she is against the project because she doesn’t believe it will give the city a return on its investment.

“A one percent investment on this is not bad investment,” she said. “However, I don’t believe in using tax dollars to subsidize sports arenas.”

Alderman Sandy Weidner (6th District) said she was in favor of the first phase of the funding.

“I understand that the city has to find ways to increase its tax base because we are losing that tax base all the time,” she said.

One person who spoke during the public comments section raised concerns that the arena would negatively impact Festival Hall and Memorial Hall.

But Amanda Gain, executive director for the Racine Civic Center, said the arena would be a great compliment to the city.

“You are talking about three different venues with different capabilities and resources,” she said. “No one wants to get married in an arena. Smaller banquets won’t use the arena. And we can’t do big expos and conferences etc. on what we have now.”

Organizations Back Project

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.

Real Racine president Dave Blank said they are for the project because it would be the first indoor venue they could market for conferences, trade shows and other sports events.

Devin Sutherland, executive director of the Downtown Racine Corporation, found a photo taken right after the marina was built and reminded the Common Council how much development it brought to the city.

“I just want to highlight the spirit of collaboration that occurred between the city, the county and the private sector 30 years ago with building the marina and Festival Park. But that was really inspired by a great plan,” Sutherland said. “And we really believe phase one will be that great plan.”

Sutherland passed around a photo of the marina the year it opened and pointed to all the development that happened after the project was built.

“What you don’t see is Lake Shore Towers. What you don’t see is the Double Tree Hotel. What you don’t see is Gaslight Pointe. What you don’t see is 1 Main St. What you don’t see is the Harbor State and Main project. We don’t always fail,” Sutherland said. “Because there has clearly been significant economic impact based on that impact we made along the lakefront 30 years ago.”

 

Racine Mayor John Dickert said that picture was the perfect example of the impact development has on a city.

“When you look at what was not there versus what is there now… that Harbor had impact and development has impact,” Dickert said. “I just wish we put more emphasis on the positive things in this community instead of going 20 years back and focusing on negative things.”

What’s next?

Hammes Company is expected to create a conceptual level design to bring back to the Common Council by June 1.

 

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.