Thursday February 25, 2016
The City of South Burlington and The University of Vermont have launched a joint feasibility study to consider the construction of a multi-purpose arena in South Burlington.
The proposed civic center/arena is slated to provide a top quality venue for UVM athletic events and university programs, as well as conventions, trade shows, concerts and family entertainment, sponsored jointly or by the city.
The feasibility study was announced at a press conference Tuesday, February 23. The study will be conducted by a joint staff working group comprised of UVM and city officials with expertise relevant to the project. University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan will appoint a team from UVM and South Burlington City Manager Kevin Dorn will appoint staff from the city.
A statement from the city reports that the analysis will focus on a model in which the arena is owned by the City of South Burlington with UVM having guaranteed access for their schedule of events. As presented, the arena could seat 5,000 for athletic events and as many as 6,000 for concerts. UVM and the city would work together to identify funding sources other than local property taxes to build and operate the arena.
“UVM has been pursuing the creation of a Multipurpose Events Center that would serve the recreational, events, wellness, and athletic needs of the University and the community for nearly 2 decades,” noted UVM Vice President for University Relations and Administration Tom Gustafson.
UVM Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Bob Corran expressed the need for such a facility for Intercollegiate Athletics. “It is no secret that our basketball and hockey venues are in need of significant improvement, and this facility could prove to be a viable and exciting solution to that problem,” Corran stated.
Dorn believes that the proposed partnership offers many advantages. “Such a multi-purpose arena would provide significant benefits beyond UVM and the City of South Burlington,” said Dorn. “A multi-purpose arena can serve as a powerful economic stimulus to the whole region and be a high quality venue that all Vermonters can enjoy. We believe the city can provide a site and a significant component of the needed financial resources to construct an arena without asking our property taxpayers for support” continued Dorn.
Potential sites for the arena include the current site of the Rick Marcotte Central School with frontage on Williston Road, and the University Mall property on Dorset Street. Other sites may be identified and evaluated during the project.
The Central School property is owned by the South Burlington School District. The school board is currently conducting ‘due diligence’ as it studies and considers recent recommendations for consolidation or reconfiguration of the district’s school facilities. Among the options under consideration by the board is the possible sale or transfer of the Central School property. The city notes that maintaining separation between the school board’s due diligence process and the arena project is important and therefore school district staff will not participate in the working group.
Also under site consideration is the University Mall property. The Finard family, owners of the University Mall, recently unveiled plans for a complete redesign of their property to a mixed-use development to include shopping, dining, residential and entertainment opportunities. Todd Finard, who represents the family in the redevelopment project has approved the inclusion of their site in the analysis. Dorn noted that the City Center Tax Increment Finance District could be expanded to include the University Mall property.
An architectural rendering of the proposed 230,000 sq. ft. building on the Central School site illustrates a modern arena called the UVM Catamount Center at City Center South Burlington. However, the naming rights and sponsorship opportunities, which could play an important role in funding, have yet to be determined. The drawing shows a parking garage behind the structure, and depicts a wide pedestrian promenade adjacent to the arena, starting at Williston Road, winding its way through city center on Market Street and connecting to Dorset Street.
Dorn noted that as a civic center, the building would provide many benefits directly to the community as a recreational/ multi-purpose facility for the city’s residents, and as a cornerstone to City Center’s development.
“Siting an arena of this size in the area we are discussing will provide a very important anchor to support the buildout and ultimate success of South Burlington’s long-planned City Center,” said Dorn. “The creation of our own downtown has been a central component of South Burlington’s Comprehensive Plan for over 30 years.”
Dorn estimated a cost in the $50-60 million range and reiterated that funding would not comes from property taxes. He said that financing components could include a local option tax, and noted that any funding elements would require voter approval and could appear on a ballot as soon as November 2016.
The staff working group will begin their analysis immediately. The study will build on at least two prior arena studies conducted by UVM and the state. A report to the UVM president and city manager is expected to be completed by August 15, 2016. The report will then go to the UVM Board of Trustees and the South Burlington City Council.
Dorn says that any recommendation by the City of South Burlington to construct such an arena will be fully vetted through an open public process.