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Event center proposed for Downtown Racine

A rendering released June 20 shows what the proposed Downtown Racine event center and arena  were envisioned.

RACINE — Racine needs to find a redevelopment plan everyone can rally behind now that plans for a proposed event center (arena) is dead, community leaders said.

The Racine City Council failed Tuesday to override a veto by Mayor Cory Mason that eliminated funding for the project from the city’s budget and 10-year capital improvement spending plan. Mason said that vote closed the chapter for Racine on planning the project. Now Mason and other locals say it’s time for Racine to choose an initiative everyone can support.

“We need to look to other things when we’re thinking about redevelopment,” Mason said.

The mayor’s desire for a development plan that brings the city together echoes the comments of 14th District Alderman Jason Meekma. The project has been divisive, Meekma said in his remarks to the council Tuesday, and has pushed community members to take sides. He voted against overriding the veto.

With Mason’s veto in place, the city will remove funding for the project from the spending plans. The funds include $55 million earmarked in the capital improvement plan, along with $2.5 million of intergovernmental revenue — generated by suburban sewer service — in the 2018 budget.

The city spent all but about $35,000 of the $600,000 originally allocated to the project, said City Administrator Jim Palenick.

He said he thinks the concept of a multipurpose event center could have been successful for the community, but that the way the project was introduced and communicated may have contributed to misunderstandings and a lack of support.

As the city looks for a new plan with more universal backing, Palenick said the site where the event center would have been remains a priority.

“It is still one of the most important, critical, catalytic sites that we have,” he said. “We can’t dismiss the idea that it needs to be redeveloped with a high-quality, large, invested catalytic development.”

Room taxes and Real Racine

In planning the project, city leaders developed a set of 10 benchmarks for the project to meet to keep the event center on track. Staff said at a Monday meeting that they had met six of the benchmarks, and that one could not be achieved.

Real Racine, the county's tourism agency that receives taxes from hotel stays, declined to put those funds toward the event center. Because of that, 3rd District Alderman John Tate II said Tuesday he could not support overriding the veto even though he likes the idea of the event center.

“We have failed to meet one of those steps,” Tate told his council colleagues. “We can’t move forward.”

Dave Blank, the president of Real Racine, said board members were concerned that if it provided the money for this project, other municipalities might make similar requests. Although the use of the funds would be legal, Blank said, the money hasn’t previously been spent this way.

Blank said he agrees that the city needs a plan that sparks unity rather than division. He said Foxconn Technology group’s plans to build a manufacturing campus within the county calls for teamwork to ensure the employees choose to live here.



Sari Lesk covers the City of Racine, Gateway and UW-Parkside. She is new to the community and moonlights as an amateur baker.

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