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Consultants outline benefits of possible CdA arena

A 6,000-seat sports and events arena in Coeur d’Alene would operate at a net loss of more than $300,000, but could result in millions of dollars in new tourism and visitor spending annually.

Those are among the findings of a consultant’s study presented Wednesday to the city’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp., to determine whether it makes sense for Coeur d’Alene to develop such a facility.

The LCDC and Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce were among the entities that joined together last year to commission the financial feasibility study. That $74,000 report was presented by Convention Sports and Leisure International of Minnesota.

Although the North Idaho market is home to several event facilities, each of them – including the Coeur d’Alene Resort and the Kootenai County fairgrounds – serves a distinct market niche, the report found. The resort offers upscale meeting, banquet and conference space while the fairgrounds offers flat-floor exhibition space.

“Neither facility is capable of hosting significant sports and spectator entertainment events,” the report found, saying that a Coeur d’Alene arena could host high school and college tournaments as well as graduations, community meetings, religious gatherings and other events.

“When was the last time this community had a high school state basketball tournament? It’s been a long time,” said Dave Tomson of SRM Development of Spokane, developer of Riverstone, a commercial and residential complex along the Spokane River north of downtown Coeur d’Alene. SRM has proposed land within Riverstone as a potential site for a sports and events arena.

Tomson said he met Wednesday with Coeur d’Alene School District high school principals to talk about the study and quoted one as saying: “It seems unfair for student athletes to never experience a home field advantage when participating in state championship tournaments.”

Tomson said the roughly 147,000 people who live in the area have no true gathering place of this nature.

The report identified the 12,000-seat Spokane Arena as the primary facility in the region offering space for sport and concert events. However, it added, “the proposed Coeur d’Alene facility may have an opportunity to attract concerts and other touring events by providing a more intimate, lower-cost alternative.”

Kevin Twohig, general manager of the Spokane Arena, acknowledged that his facility might lose a smaller event or two if a Coeur d’Alene arena were built. However, he said, most event facilities operate at a loss and the Spokane Arena struggles to stay on the radar of event promotion companies operating primarily from cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“I just hope somebody’s prepared to write a very large check,” Twohig said. “A 6,000-seat arena is a very, very expensive building to operate.”

Wes Johnson, the CSL International consultant, said the Coeur d’Alene arena would likely cost $25 million to $35 million to build. He identified a number of potential funding sources, including tax-increment financing, a hotel tax and private contributions.

He said the annual loss the facility would likely suffer would pale in comparison to the potential for up $4.3 million to $5.7 million in new visitor spending each year.

The proposed arena would be paired with a baseball field complex likely to attract the Spokane RiverHawks as the home team, Johnson said. The team would play 24 to 30 games per year, drawing up to 2,000 spectators, he said.

The consultant’s report suggested that an arena in Coeur d’Alene would gain a competitive advantage over other North Idaho facilities by offering more than 17,000 square feet of floor space for consumer and trade shows. It also proposed improvements to the fairgrounds to enable it to better secure large exhibitions so both it and the proposed arena could serve different niches.

Chris Holloway, fair manager, said many other studies have shown the need for expanded event space in the Coeur d’Alene market.

“There’s a lot of desire for trade shows and consumer shows,” she said. Still, she said, if the proposed arena were built, “there would be some events both facilities would like to have.”

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