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A $46 million downtown arena would need taxpayer money to move forward. But the project would come with hundreds of jobs, a possible minor league hockey team and a Milwaukee Bucks developmental franchise, according to an initial plan rolled out by Racine Mayor John Dickert. The construction of the event center — which would be located on 3.5-acres on the southeast corner of Lake Avenue and Gas Light Drive — could be financed and paid for with tax dollars: 2/3 by city residents and 1/3 by Racine County through a.5 percent stadium tax, a Downtown Racine Arena Market and Feasibility Study suggested. Click here to read: Racine Downtown Market and Feasibility Study. Racine County residents already pay a .1 percent tax for Miller Park Stadium. But this investment would also mean 188 full-time, 270 part-time and 443 construction jobs in Racine. And those jobs would help immensely because Racine has the highest unemployment rate in the state, Dickert told the Racine County executive committee at a meeting held Tuesday, according to a story by the Journal Times: “People have said to me, ‘well you know mayor, these are part-time jobs and some of them may not be family-supporting jobs,'” Dickert is quoted as saying. “We just know that they’re jobs. Beggars aren’t choosing. I’m going to take jobs wherever I can get them, whether it’s one or 500.”

Big opportunity highlighted

The study recommends building a 5,000 seat arena, which would attract about 280,000 people to the area the first year and 257,000 visitors annually. According to a market and feasibility study done by Chicago-based Hundan Strategic Partners: “The market, while relatively small locally, is situated between to major markets and encompasses a larger capture market that is attractive to concert and other event promoters. Given Racine’s location nearly equidistant from Milwaukee and Chicago, it makes a logistically smart stopover or mid-market arena for many acts, family shows and other events traveling between larger metro areas.” The study highlighted several strengths including: Strong community leadership, the Downtown Redevelopment and Authenticity, the opportunity for events, the possibility of a new hotel, access off of I-94, business community support and growing content for small arenas.

Small markets have succeeded

One area of weakness, however, Racine is a small market. But other smaller communities similar in size have supported an arena. “There are numerous examples of arenas in small markets (many smaller than Racine) that have successfully supported hockey franchises and arenas,” according to the study. Opportunities include: new events for Racine, publicized events, and an economic, fiscal and employment benefits. “The project will entice visitors to visit Racine businesses, restaurants and meeting/event facilities,” the study points out. But the cost of the project and locating it outside of downtown Racine would be a threat to the viability of the project. “The arena will not succeed in terms of impact on the community if it is not downtown near the arenas of activity, near other event and hotel properties and adjacent to Lake Michigan.” One county supervisor see the project is a collective lift for the county to boost Racine’s employment rate while another from the west end of the county has concerns.

Becker Likes Arena Plan, But Needs Details

Racine County Supervisor Melissa Becker, who serves the 4th District in Racine, said she generally supports the concept, but needs more details before making a final decision on funding. Still, she favors the project because it would have a synergistic effect with the Machinery Row and Root Works project. “It’s so energizing to this area, but we really haven’t looked at where the money is coming from,” she said. “But I see this as a Racine County project because the city is within the county and it’s really something that would help boost neighboring communities.” While more details are needed on how the project would be financed, Becker also feels like there is an opportunity for grants or state aid.

Molnar Leery Of Deal

But Racine County Supervisor Ron Molnar, who serves the 12 District in he Kansasville area, said that he wasn’t at he meeting, but he’s received a number of calls and emails from people. hey voiced concerns that they don’t wan to be saddled with another stadium tax like the one Racine County has to pay for Miller Park. “They are also telling me they aren’t in support of it because of all of the other failed projects that Racine has been boondoggled with like the Pointe Blue project and who knows what’s going to happen with Machinery Row with the developer asking for all of those extensions,” Molnar said. Racine County and the City have also been at odds over the city withholding a $350,000 payment for the County’s Joint Dispatch Center. “Now they want $15 million from us for a stake in this project?” Molnar said. “If the project goes south, we’d need to make sure that we aren’t left holding the bag.” Molnar would like to see the project in a more central location, not Downtown Racine. And he’d like to find out more about how the site would be controlled and a more formal written plan. “It’s definitely something I’m getting a lot of texts and phone calls on,” he said.          

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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.

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