Opinions differ on arena issue with mayor, council members

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 12, 2002

Renovate Riverside Arena and build a new ice skating facility or bank the money in anticipation of future needs?

The decision to spend or save rests in the hands of members of the Austin City Council and Mayor Bonnie Rietz.

The mayor is for the project.

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"I am very pleased the bids came in under budget," Rietz said. "We have a wonderful blend of funding sources. Both the public and private are involved and with $800,000 from Mower County, the state grant money and the Austin Utilities geothermal ideas for making both facilities more energy efficient, this project can be done," Rietz concluded.

First Ward council members Mickey Jorgenson and Wayne Goodnature offer divergent points of view.

"I believe it was right for Austin when we first voted on it and it's just as right today, Jorgenson said. "Any new council members should be proud to have that legacy that they supported a project like this and carried it forward."

Goodnature sees otherwise.

"The big question is this 'Should we take $1.8 million from city funds and use it for another ice arena, when the state is telling us to prepare for a budget shortfall?" Goodnature said. "The process has been questioned

from the start when the city took it over from the county. Not only are there going to be the initial construction costs, but we already have an ice arena, Riverside Arena, that runs an operating deficit of over $100,000 a year."

Second Ward council members Jeanne Poppe and Pete Christopherson also have opposing views.

"Definitely the state budget is a concern for local government," Poppe said, "but we have public and private funding at work here. I think the renovation and the new facility are needed and the public funding for something like this may not be there in the future."

Christopherson said, "I have nothing against hockey or figure skating, but it's a bad time for something like this economically. A very bad time.. Not knowing what the state is going to do to solve its funding problems and the future of state aid to cities bothers me."

Third Ward council members Gloria Nordin and Dick Lang are expected to vote for the project and award a contract at Monday night's meeting.

"It looks as though we are OK financially for this year, but beyond that we don't know," Nordin said. "I think we should move forward on the second sheet of ice project, because the money is there at this time.

I do also think how we can be more creative and build more revenue sources into the facility."

"I'm excited about it," said Lang. "I've been a businessman all my life and I know how things can go up and they can go down in the economy. Austin has made it through those hard times and it will make it through any to come. This is a project started five years ago and we should see it through."

Council member At Large Dick Chaffee is also solidly behind it.

"First of all, we're very fortunate to have both state and local dollars available for this project as well as the private sector funds," Chaffee said. "If the local support for a project of this magnitude and the local

and the dollars are there today, I don't think

not ending a million dollars will save the world tomorrow."

Chaffee said the Austin City Council is addressing such public safety needs in both the fire and police departments and not ignoring other basic needs of citizens..

The prospects for geo thermal energy efficiencies in the old and new facility also helped convince Chaffee to support the project..

"But most of all," he said,

"there is so much support for this project. You can't ignore that."