By Kylie Balk-Yaatenen - November 2nd 2023



 Plans to build the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center in Janesville took a major step ahead with the announcement by Gov. Tony Evers Thursday that it will get $15 million in COVID-era ARPA funds.

The American Rescue Plan Act — ARPA — was a federal stimulus bill adopted in 2021 that allocated $350 billion in emergency COVID-era relief to state, local, territorial and tribal governments. Recipients must have a plan set by Dec. 31, 2024 for using the funds, and must spend them by Dec. 31, 2026.

The Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center is a roughly $50 million two-sheet ice arena, sports complex and convention center proposed to be built at the Uptown Janesville mall on Milton Avenue in Janesville.

It would go on the site of a shuttered Sears store, that will be torn down.

Earlier this year, city officials said the project was about $15 million short of what was needed to move ahead with construction, even with $9 million in private fundraising including the naming rights for the owners of Woodman’s Market in Janesville and major donations from Mercyhealth and the Kennedy Family Foundation.

The project has also received a $5 million federal grant, a $390,000 pledge from the Janesville Jets hockey team and both $2 million for planning and a construction commitment for $17.3 million from the city of Janesville, approved by the city council.

Additionally, the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Center has pledged to give 10% of its room tax revenue over 5 years for facility sales and marketing, worth an estimated $75,000-$100,000 per year, renewable for another five years. It has also committed to annual in-kind support valued at approximately $50,000.

City Manager Kevin Lahner said Thursday that the state’s allocation of ARPA funds puts the project within $1.5 million of construction costs being fully covered, depending on bids.

He said he expects the city council to consider construction bids in early January and said construction could start as early as February.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Governor for standing behind the project since beginning moving it forward,” Lahner said. “We are also grateful to the community of Janesville; this project will create possibilities for the county, city and region.”

Lahner said that Woodman’s Center will become reality because of relationships built between businesses, community members, and the city.

“I am just incredibly grateful for the community and friends group,” he said. “Without a true public-private partnership this would not be able to happen.”

Once it’s built, some estimates have put the annual economic impact of the Woodman’s Center at $23 million, with conventions, community events, sports competitions, Janesville Jets games, and other activities.

Back in February, the governor included $15 million for the Woodman’s Center in his 2023-2025 capital budget, but the funding was not included in the final biennial budget adopted by state legislators.

“I am deeply grateful to Gov. Evers for his continued engagement with community stakeholders and local legislators over the past year, and his continued commitment to making this project a reality. The state’s investment in this redevelopment project will promote economic growth and will help Janesville and Rock County continue to be a leading destination in our region,” Spreitzer said in a statement Thursday. “I am thankful that Gov. Evers recognized this project for what it is: a transformative project for the Janesville community. I look forward to continuing to work with local leaders, community stakeholders, and my constituents on next steps for the project.”

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