County board studies arena cost sharing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2000

Ray Tucker asked the question Tuesday on many Mower County residents’ minds.

Thursday, April 13, 2000

Ray Tucker asked the question Tuesday on many Mower County residents’ minds.

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"At what point, does this become non-feasible?" Tucker, Second District county commissioner, asked fellow county board members Tuesday.

Tucker listened raptly to a discussion led by David Hillier, Third District commissioner and chair of the county board’s building committee, on the proposed multipurpose building.

Also listening raptly were Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz, Austin City Council member-at-large Richard Chaffee and City Finance Director Tom Dankert, who attended Tuesday’s county board meeting.

County board members Richard P. Cummings, First District, and Len Miller, Fourth District, could be added to the list as well as Larry Lyons, representing the Austin Youth Hockey Association.

Three weeks ago, Hillier admitted the proposed multipurpose building project, including two sheets of ice, appeared to have lost "some of its momentum."

Two weeks ago, the county said the city would have to become a larger financial stakeholder in the project if it were to proceed.

A week ago, the Austin City Council said it was willing to do that up to a point.

At the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, Hillier admitted, "We’ve certainly had lots of discussion and you reach a point where a decision has to be made."

It wasn’t made Tuesday, but the project may have regained some of its lost momentum.

Hillier recounted how unanticipated cost overruns announced by the county’s architect, LHB Inc., which placed the estimated cost at $5.5 million to $7.5 million, surprised – and disappointed – everyone.

After a meeting of city and county officials and staffers last week, the city of Austin informed the county board by letter that the city is willing to increase its financial stake in the project.

The project is now pegged at $5.35 million for the structure that supporters hope will relieve some of the fairgrounds’ building needs and take care of the city’s and the Austin School District’s ice needs.

Hillier said the financial stakeholders will need to come up with an additional $1.3 million.

"Mower County’s stake would increase from $1.8 million to $2.45 million and the city of Austin’s share would increase to $950,000 if that is possible," Hillier said.

But the proposed $5.35 million building would be smaller, 64,800 square feet compared to the original figure of 69,000 square feet.

"This would be a scaled-down version of the original building plans," County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

Hillier and co-building committee member, Cummings, said the lobby, foyer and kitchen-food service areas would be reduced in the new building plans.

"The city is very willing to work with the county," Rietz told the commissioners. "We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will include the state money, too."

Chaffee said the council’s straw vote, while not binding, indicated the city would not spend more than $650,000 on the new building, which will replace the beleaguered Riverside Arena, a more than $100,000-a-year deficit-spending item for Austin.

"I’m not saying this is non-negotiable," Chaffee said, "but this is what our finance director, Tom Dankert, said is the wall we’re at. We’ve got some $36 million in building and development going on in the city at this time."

"I’m not dumping cold water on the project. In fact, I’m personally in favor of this project," Chaffee said.

Hillier said the county board’s decision to proceed was dependent upon the city agreeing to the $950,000 financial stake in the project.

Then, Tucker, who represents virtually the eastern two-thirds of Mower County asked, "At what point does this project become non-feasible?"

Referring to the other stakeholders, including Hormel Foods Corp., which has pledged $650,000, plus another $250,000 in a challenge grant to the AYHA, as well as the Hormel Foundation’s $350,000, Tucker observed, "I just know they’re tapped out. Hormel Foods is tapped out on this project for all they’re pledging."

If the city agrees to the county’s proposed level of financial participation, the county board is expected to formally vote on the new cost figures in two weeks.