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City Looking For Restaurants To Help With Arena Concessions

Grossinger Motors Arena 2021
Emily Bollinger
The $29 million dollar arena opened 15 years ago as the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. It's now known as Grossinger Motors Arena.
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The City of Bloomington says it has a creative way to solve a problem posed by the return of concerts to its downtown arena.

The city says it’s looking for Bloomington restaurants interested in taking over one or more concession stands at Grossinger Motors Arena. Restaurants would make money from the extra business, but they’d be “responsible for 100% operation of the stand from food and beverage to staffing during the event," according to the city. Restaurants must be located in Bloomington, with ability to provide up to seven staffers, plus a food permit and preferably a liquor license.

The idea arose because of a “challenge” created by the two October concerts scheduled at the arena (Casting Crowns and Lauren Daigle), said City Manager Tim Gleason. The arena needs to offer concessions, he said, but it didn’t just want to offer a minimal menu of “soda and popcorn” after being closed for 18 months.

“There are opportunities in COVID. We’ve seen the outdoor dining in the downtown. This could be yet another one of those instances that becomes permanent,” Gleason said.

Interested restaurants should email Leslie Yocum at lyocum@cityblm.org using the subject line “Arena Concessions” by 5 p.m. Friday.

The city has been managing the arena itself since last year, after parting ways with outside management firm VenuWorks. There hasn’t been much to manage. The arena has been largely dormant for the past 18 months due to COVID, with the exception of COVID vaccination clinics and farmers’ markets. Gleason said it’s unlikely sports, such as ice hockey, will return anytime soon.

Speaking this week on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Gleason was asked about the budget impact of a dormant arena.

“In some cases, believe it or not, operating some of the events at the tremendous loss we have in the past is more costly. You don’t have to turn the lights on and have the A/C turned on to the degree you would for an event. But that’s not an ideal situation. We know that at some point in the future we have to figure this out,” Gleason said.

That could mean selling the arena—an outcome long desired by critics of the venue.

The city was working on a request for proposals (RFP) for potential buyers before COVID hit, Gleason said. Now, the pandemic has made it a difficult time to sell an arena.

“It’s not ideal to take a loss, but (we) still believe that’s a viable property and could be better served in the hands of somebody that does this as their full-time job, versus a municipal entity,” Gleason said.

The $29 million dollar arena opened 15 years ago as the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. It was politically polarizing, with a majority of voters opposing the arena's construction in a 2005 advisory referendum.

The venue was renamed Grossinger Motors Arena in 2017. Since 2017, Grossinger Motors has changed ownership and is now known as Leader Auto. Negotiations with Leader Auto are currently underway to rename it Leader Arena, according to the city’s budget.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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