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Past Bloomington arena management blamed for premature heating and cooling expenses

The $29 million dollar arena opened 15 years ago as the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. It's now known as Grossinger Motors Arena.
Emily Bollinger
The downtown Bloomington arena opened 15 years ago as the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. It's now known as Grossinger Motors Arena.

Bloomington's city manager said the heating and cooling units at Grossinger Motors Arena should have lasted four to nine years longer than they have.

The cost to replace the units at the arena and Bloomington Ice Center will be $5 million to $8 million. City Manager Tim Gleason said there have been a lot of internal conversations about why.

"Wanting to understand, reliving, and I'll describe it this way, some of the pain when we talk about the Coliseum," said Gleason.

That history included some design flaws.

"The build on these, I think it's a metal fabrication, it should not have been that. They are rusting out and failing sooner than they should," Gleason said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

And there was lapsed maintenance. Gleason said previous arena management (Central Illinois Arena Management headed by John Butler), back when it was called the Coliseum, did not do proper upkeep on the units. Even under the immediate past arena management contract before the city took over, the Bloomington staff were getting more cooperation and requests for maintenance than they did under CIAM, said Gleason.

The new HVAC units will be similar to the original ones, but Gleason said there is a chance the city could talk about ways to reduce energy costs at the arena.

"We do know that we have space on some of the Coliseum or the Pepsi ice roof. It is possible to explore solar for that location and some other downtown opportunities," said Gleason. "I don't know that there is a time frame for the discussion because there are so many companies out there that are offering energy efficiency power, but it really would be within the next year or two, if we were going to pursue a larger energy efficiency type of plan, and it likely would be solar."

Gleason said the city does not want to do a one-off on the arena when solar could be a possibility in other areas as well over the next 3 to 7 years. One possible location is the potential Connect Transit transfer station location at what is now the Market Street Parking Deck.

Gleason said the cost of the HVAC project is not so large that it would cramp the financial capacity of the city to engage in the larger streetscape effort. He acknowledged inflationary and supply chain costs continue to rise significantly.

Redevelopment project protests

A couple of developers are using nonunion workers on two downtown Bloomington projects that are getting some city help. Organized labor isn't happy about that part of the Red Raccoon Games and CII East projects. They've been picketing for weeks.

Gleason said there's not a lot the city can do on those projects.

"We definitely express our desire that union labor is used. But under the law these funds typically do not trigger prevailing wage. And we usually just say they have to pay prevailing wage, if required by law," said Gleason.

Gleason was asked whether the city should draw such development agreements tighter to require union scale pay before city help could be given, in sales or property tax rebates.

"We have got a very good relationship with union labor throughout the region. We don't want that relationship to erode, but at the same time we want development. It can be a delicate balance," said Gleason.

Unit 5 referendum

Gleason said he expects Unit 5 to "take another swing" after voters rejected a referendum on Nov. 8 to raise the education fund property tax rate, even though the overall rate would have fallen substantially as the district paid off construction bonds from 2008.

“Maybe (they will) try to step up their marketing efforts. In government, whether it's school or the municipality, it's telling that story. It's trying to build that trust that the community, the voters, in this case, have in what you're sharing and expressing your need for in this increase, “ Gleason said.

He said there are not immediate concerns that voter rejection of the request would harm city development efforts. But if Unit 5 is forced to cut hundreds of teachers, it would be another story.

“I'm sure it would. One of the things that is a huge selling point when you talk about the attractiveness of this entire region is our K through 12,” said Gleason.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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