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Our View: Arena study leaves too many questions

Overall Site Plan Proposed Taylor Arena.jpg
Overall site plan
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The feasibility study related to the proposal to replace Taylor Arena with a facility equipped to serve a U.S. Hockey League team left us with one big question: Is it feasible?

The Rochester City Council also had many questions after a review of the study commissioned by the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau. Questions about funding, other potential locations and the effect on Mayo Park were among them. Many of the questions are the same questions we've been asking since the potential project was revealed.

The study did show a potential for success, said Rob Robinson of Hammes Co., who was contracted to study options for replacing Taylor Arena. He said research revealed potential for attracting 3,000 people to 32 USHL games a year. "We feel the overall market is strong," he said, noting the city's median household income of $64,000 indicates many residents have disposable income needed to support a larger sports and entertainment venue.

In addition to USHL games, the study indicates a new arena could lure another 84 events annually, ranging from a variety of sport tournaments to concerts and other family-oriented entertainment.

While we like the idea of improving the 29-year-old Taylor Arena, which Mayo Civic Center Executive Directors Donna Drews noted has been struggling with challenges and a need for upgrades, we agree with many of the council members in noting the feasibility study doesn't answer enough questions.

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The biggest question is whether the city can afford such a project at a time when a variety of other needs are on the horizon, including a proposed library upgrade and new police and fire department facilities.

Part of the answer may come when RCVB Executive Director Brad Jones defines the public-private partnership he envisions for funding the arena project. We would expect it will include at least a 50 percent match to any city costs, which still could leave the city looking to fund as much as $35 million over a 20-year period.

Even with a 50 percent match of private dollars, the city will be relying on a USHL commitment to ensure the arena remains viable as it's being paid off. That will take more than a handshake from team owners and league officials. We expect they would need to make a serious investment in any construction and commit to ensuring any franchise remains in Rochester for a defined period.

Only when private commitments are certain should the city council consider moving forward. The questions posed Monday need answers. "We're kind of doing a litmus test at this point," Council President Randy Staver said in requesting answers and putting aside a decision.

While waiting for answers the council needs to seriously consider what it is willing to do. Answers may reveal the project is something the city can do, but Council Member Nick Campion also asked whether it's something the city  should do.

We'd like to see the project completed, but with limited funds for big projects, we're not completely convinced it's the best use of future city dollars.

While an enhanced arena will improve the city's attraction for visitors and provide new entertainment opportunities for many, it will likely not be accessible to all. The city's median income might leave many with disposable income, but we know too well many Rochester residents lack extra money to spend.

With city taxes and costs increasing, the city council must consider the overall community benefits of any spending. Only then can council members determine whether the arena project is truly feasible.

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