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Janesville leaders hope for big economic gains from Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center

The $47M center will feature an ice arena and space for other sports

A rendering of a future convention center and ice arena in Janesville and the parking lot in front of it.
An architectural rendering shows the future Woodman’s Center which will house an ice arena in Janesville, Wis. (Rendering courtesy Zimmerman Architectural Studios)

After helping to raise nearly $10 million for Janeville’s new ice arena and convention center, and with construction underway, perhaps Christine Rebout can relax.

“Absolutely not,” said Rebout, executive director of the area’s convention and visitors bureau. “Now we begin to sell the facility.”

The $47 million center, located at the site of a shuttered Sears store in the Uptown Janesville mall, will feature a year-round ice rink, a multi-sport complex and a venue to host conventions. The facility will be named the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center

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Rebout and Janesville City Manager Kevin Lahner recently joined WPR’s “The Morning Show” to laud the project that city leaders say will create 228 jobs and $23 million in annual economic impact.

“We sell the entire Janesville community, and now we have a new tool in the toolbox,” Rebout said. “All of those meetings and conventions need a home to go to, and we don’t like to see when they head to Illinois or a nearby state. We want to keep them here in Wisconsin.”

A rendering showing part of a convention center and ice arena planned for Janesville.
An architectural rendering shows the future Woodman’s Center which will house an ice arena in Janesville, Wis. Rendering courtesy Zimmerman Architectural Studios

The city expects construction to finish in spring 2025. Lahner said he expects annual funding for the facility will cost city coffers the equivalent of about $39 per taxpayer. 

According to Lahner, most funding for construction of the center is from government sources:

City leaders working on the project were at first concerned about inflation bringing up costs, but construction costs stabilized and the final bid came in under budget, Lahner said.

The Woodman’s Center is one example of cities trying to fill vacant lots left behind by malls or empty stores within malls. Wausau recently opened a children’s museum at the site of a shuttered mall. Lahner said mall properties are generally seeing decline, and the Woodman’s Center is “a great opportunity to introduce new life to that property and spur economic development in the city.”

Rebout said people visiting Janesville for a conference or sporting event will spend money elsewhere in the city, too. Establishing pickleball courts for public play could be another draw to the center, she said.

The city and Woodman’s signed a 20-year naming rights deal that starts in July 2025 or shortly after occupancy starts.

Rebout said she is excited the name will start with Woodman’s, an employee-owned grocery store company that started in Janesville more than a century ago.

Asked about the novelty of pairing an ice arena and a convention center in the same facility, Rebout acknowledged the plans are unique. Stakeholders knew the Janesville Jets, a North American Hockey League team, were looking for a new hockey facility. They decided to resolve that search along with desires for a convention space in one revitalization project, she said. 

READ MORE: New children’s museum aims to be catalyst for revitalizing downtown Wausau

The current Janesville Ice Arena was built in 1974. Lahner said the space is no longer viable. Pursuing the Woodman’s Center was a better option than spending tens of millions to redo a facility that’s older than him, he said. 

Rebout said she wants the Woodman’s Center to remain accessible at any time for anyone using its features. The center will then get the most bang for its buck.

“If somebody wants a 2 a.m. meeting, darn it, we’re going to make that work because we wanted the most economic impact for the investment,” she said.