By Neil Johnson - August 23rd 2022
It’s not clear whether many small trims or a few massive cuts might be in order, but Janesville city officials and private stakeholders on Tuesday found consensus on this: a preliminary cost of nearly $60 million for the proposed Woodman’s Sports & Convention Center is a nonstarter.
A city ad-hoc committee on Tuesday promptly sent back plans for the ice arena and conference center at the Uptown Janesville shopping mall, after a new cost estimate came back far higher—$24.8 million more—than the city’s earlier raw estimate of $35 million, that both the city and private-side stakeholders had envisioned.
The $35 million figure was a first-blush estimate the city ordered earlier this year from consultant Kraus-Anderson, for a 140,000 square-foot two-sheet convertible ice arena and conference spaces at Uptown Janesville.
Consultants, including ice arena designer 292 Design Group, are now being asked to, over the next few weeks, bring back to the city’s Woodman’s Sports & Convention Center design committee a list of cuts. The hope is to significantly slash the project’s prospective price tag.
The committee had hoped that Tuesday’s briefing on preliminary costs would help the city groom up a working estimate of the project’s cost to present to the city council by the end of this month. But it’s looking like that presentation could be on hold pending cost cuts and further review in committee.
Tom Betti, a designer with 292 Design, told the committee on Tuesday that his group has had to wrestle down costs on a few other regional ice arena proposals now in the works. He blames inflation over the last several months for the rising cost of complex mechanicals used to refrigerate and operate ice sheets.
Betti said inflation has pushed the cost of some other ice arena projects he’s worked on up from $250 to $300 per square foot to over $400 per square foot.
He said the cost spikes are on the supply side of ice arena equipment, not necessarily for labor.
Construction costs detailed in the preliminary figures released Tuesday show that the cost of construction alone could be $46.9 million— well above the city’s earlier guess.
Those estimates are based on an assumption the project would cost about $300 per square foot, consultants indicated.
The construction cost doesn’t include furnishings and other design and consulting costs, or a contingency safety net of $6 million tacked onto what’s now an overall, $59.8 million sticker price, according to Kraus-Anderson’s estimates.
Some cuts suggested by city officials and private stakeholders on Tuesday included cropping down the overall height of the arena building, or leaving one planned ice rink space an uncompleted shell until a later date.
One person involved with private-side fundraising for the project, Bill McCoshen, asked the consultants if it would “be helpful if we gave you a number—asked you to come back with $26 million in cuts?”
That would account for the entire projected cost overrun, based on a project budget envisioned to include $17 million in city funding and $9 million in private sector fundraising—plus another $9 million in pending grant funds.
The city would own the ice arena, proposed to be built on the footprint of a former Sears store at Uptown Janesville.
Tom Betti, a designer with 292 Design Group, told the committee it’s unlikely that consultants could carve out the bulk of cost overruns without dramatically altering the design or downsizing or removing one or more of the facility’s intended uses.
The idea to build out just the shell of one of the two ice sheets could save several million dollars initially, as could removal or relocation of part of the planned convention center spaces, the consultants said.
Potential cuts could include things like a scoreboard estimated at $600,000 and a set of movable wall partitions for conference center spaces that could run $800,000.
One city council member involved in Tuesday’s committee discussions, Douglas Marklein, said he doesn’t think consultants could hack as much as $25 million off the price tag.
But Marklein said he hopes to see a plan reworked that produces a sports complex and conference center that cost-wise would fall “somewhere between a Cadillac and a Ford Pinto.”
Christine Rebout, the director of the nonprofit, city-funded Janesville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and Jennifer Petruzzello, the city’s director of neighborhood services, both are members of the city’s ad hoc design committee.
Petruzzello and Rebout said Tuesday they need a couple weeks to examine how cuts could impact the overall business model of the proposed conference center.
City Public Works Director, Mike Payne, who leads the ad hoc committee, said he intends to ask city administration to recommend a re-set date on taking cost estimates to the full council for review.
That would give consultants until after Labor Day to recalibrate some parts of the project and roll the suggested changes back through the city’s design committee.
Payne told The Gazette that a few weeks’ delay on the process would not impinge on the timeframe for the project’s ongoing design work. The project is set to roll out in 2023 and 2024, if approved by the council.
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