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Taylor Arena replacement comes with $55 million price tag

Event concourse level
Event concourse level.
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A new multipurpose arena in Rochester could provide economic benefit and a vibrant downtown —at a cost of $55 million to $75 million.

The Rochester City Council on Monday heard the results of a feasibility study, commissioned by the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, to replace Taylor Arena and provide a new site for a United States Hockey League franchise.

Brad Jones, RCVB executive director, said the study recommended a new facility to replace Taylor Arena, but the RCVB has not made a recommendation to the city of Rochester.

"We don't have a proposal; this is just an opportunity we want you to look at, which we think is a very attractive public-private opportunity to pursue," Jones said.

About seven months ago, the RCVB received a call from the U.S. Hockey League about an opportunity, Jones said. The bureau then contracted with Hammes Co. to conduct a feasibility report.

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The arena

Hammes Co., working with architecture and design firm Sink Combs Dethlefs, produced several options for a new arena. All were based on a ground-floor concourse design, but varied in size from 4,000 permanent seats to 6,200 seats, according to Donald Dethlefs, Sink Combs Dethlefs' CEO.

The estimated cost of constructing an arena started at $55 million for the 4,000-seat option and increased to $60 million at 5,000 seats and $65 million for a 6,000 to 6,200-seat arena. The largest arena option included a more variable floor plan and options to facilitate outdoor events in Mayo Memorial Park via a southeast-facing stage.

Each of the arena options would tie into the new features being constructed at Mayo Civic Center, Dethlefs said.

The study was specifically aimed at the 29-year-old Taylor Arena, Jones said.

"It was very apparent very quickly that what we were trying to create was something to benefit downtown and the downtown district, and so we really honed in on Taylor Arena," Jones said.

Economic feasibility

The Rochester area presents an attractive market for a new multipurpose arena, said Rob Robinson, of Hammes Co.

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"Taylor Arena in its present form is really not configured in a way that it's very good for hockey, certainly, but also for concerts, other family shows and other sorts of touring events that promoters would like to bring to Rochester," Robinson said.

A potential USHL partner would present an anchor tenant for the arena, but would only account for about 32 of an estimated annual 116 events at the arena each year, Robinson said; a larger arena with modern capabilities could attract larger music performances and other family entertainment.

Hammes projected the arena could attract an additional 380,000 visits to the Rochester downtown area.

Timing

A project timeline starting immediately could result in an operations-ready facility by fall 2017, Robinson said.

A 2017 opening is not a requisite of constructing the arena, Jones said, though the USHL could be a factor in timing.

"The general question was how long will this take to build, so they just built that out from today. There's no real significance to it," Jones said. "The league is very interested in expanding, so they're going to have a handful of cities that want to take advantage of that opportunity, so it's just what's right for them."

Funding

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The feasibility study presented by Hammes did not include a recommendation on how to fund construction of a new arena. There are several possibilities for private funding, Jones said, including USHL organization ownership, naming rights to the arena and other private partnerships.

Public sector funding options could also come from numerous sources, including general obligation revenue bonds or city taxes, said City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold. If the city were to pursue general obligation bond funding, the city would seek voter approval through a referendum.

The RCVB would explore funding options, Jones said.

"To this point, we were just so focused on what could be there and what could work there. Now, you've got to figure out how — how you're going to make this happen," Jones said.

Council reaction

Rochester City Council members had mixed reactions to the report. The consensus was to pursue more information, particularly on funding options.

"Show me how you pay for it," Council Member Mark Bilderback said. "I think that's fair. They say there's some creativity out there, they say they have it; well let's see it, let's put it to work."

Council members Nick Campion and Michael Wojcik weighed the arena possibilities against other public needs, including street maintenance, transportation and social services.

"Frankly, I'm not sure that I've heard much today that makes me excited about spending more staff time on this," Campion said. "I'm kind of in the camp of, why now? We have a lot of capital needs coming up."

Campion was also concerned with the long-term viability of the facility if a problem arose with its anchor tenant. Rochester was home to a USHL franchise, the Mustangs, from 1985 through 2002.

"As a steward of the city, I'm not responsible for adopting the bright picture; I'm responsible for managing the worst case scenario here," Campion said.

Council Member Ed Hruska encouraged the council to send the report to its Destination Medical Center partner, the DMC Corp. Board, for its review.

"For the USHL to come and identify Rochester as the city in the state of Minnesota — the State of Hockey — that they want to be in is something we should be proud of. I think there is justification to look into this a little deeper," Hruska said.

Next steps

Kvenvold asked for more information on several points: the amount of money the private sector would put in; what sort of control would private parties expect for that money; what would be the cash-flow from events; how much cash-flow would go to the private sector; and what would be the operating costs for the new facility.

Wojcik asked that if the city continued to explore the possibility, that it commission an independent economic feasibility analysis.

Information gathering would take time, Council President Randy Staver said, making the tight 2017 timeline presented unlikely to proceed.

"Clearly, that's not going to all happen in the next few weeks, so we're going to need more time."

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