A candidate for Bloomington mayor wants to sell the U.S. Cellular Coliseum and is willing to sell it for less than appraised value to "get out from under the yearly subsidy." Robert Fike is a 58-year-old retired firefighter. He says the annual subsidy amounts to $900,000.
Information from the City of Bloomington shows an unaudited $1.87 million bond payment and a $1.4 million transfer of funds to the coliseum in fiscal year 2016. Any deal to sell the facility would have to consider the bond payment or debt service. The city helped finance construction of the coliseum through nearly $30 million in bonds.
"The city should be in the business of providing police and fire protection, garbage pickup, roads and sidewalks in good repair, water mains and sewers that don't leak, break or crack. And that's what a city does," said Fike who is running against incumbent Tari Renner, Aldermen Kevin Lower and Diana Hauman, and former radio host Ian Bayne.
Fike could not provide any examples of multi-purpose arenas in similar sized communities that have been privatized, but did say similar facilities in Peoria and Springfield are also subsidized because "they aren't making money."
"I think we'll have to market it through a commercial real estate firm," said Fike. "I'd like to use a local one to keep the money in the community."
Fike skirted the answer when asked who would manage the coliseum if current management firm VenuWorks decided it didn't want to continue with an uncertain future while the coliseum was on the market. A contract with VenuWorks was approved by the city council less than six months ago. When asked if the management firm should they be given a chance to manage the facility and lower the subsidy, Fike asked "How long do you wait, how long do you give them?"
"I think we've given that facility enough time," said Fike. However, he admitted that VenuWorks has not had much time, but speculated that VenuWorks might be a possible buyer of the facility.
VenuWorks specializes in private management of public facilities, not management of facilities it owns. Newly named manager of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Lynn Cannon confirmed that VenuWorks owns none of the facilities it manages. VenuWorks, based in Ames, Iowa currently oversees 34 arenas and theaters located mostly in the Midwest.
And even if sold, Fike said the city should still exert some control in the type of acts booked, to recover increased police costs in the event of controversial acts, and to ensure the building is maintained well.
Editors note: this story was updated with information on Sat., Dec. 10 to include information regarding VenuWorks ownership of facilities it manages.