by Lawana Morse
Recently there was a vote for the legislature regarding giving the arena $500,000 of ARP funds. Back in December 2022, this line item was already voted on by the then legislature. The latest vote was to release the funds after the conditions of how the money was to be used were ironed out.
There was some surprise by my ‘yes’ vote, which I knew there would be. I had been approached earlier in the year and was asked my feelings of the County taking on the arena as a county facility. I emphatically said no. I would not vote for such an acquisition. I strongly believe the arena needs to be a privately owned building. At current, the arena is owned by the IDA (not the county) and the hope is (and has been for quite a while) to find a private company to buy the arena and take over the management. There are talks in the works – as there have been in the past – so, we’ll see.
In the meantime, one of the purposes of ARP funds has been to put money back into the businesses and tourism of the county to “recover” after the Covid shutdowns. I recognize that this is taxpayer funds that have been provided from the very broke Federal coffers. I also know, if we don’t use the money in our county, it will go back to the Federal coffers to be given to some other areas that our hard-earned money keeps getting thrown at, some good-some bad. I would rather see the funds put into something in the community that has the potential of increasing the value of life here.
For so long the focus of the arena has been primarily on hockey. This town is not a hockey town from what I have seen. When the focus of a huge facility is solely on one revenue stream and the fan base just is not there to support it, the facility can’t operate. When the management is concerned with putting funds into their pockets because they have no incentive to maintain structure, the facility can’t succeed.
Moving the focus from a hockey facility managed by a hockey team to a community center with multiple revenue streams being managed by a board of directors that has a desire to see the facility succeed gives me hope. I don’t want to see the arena fail. I have had conversations with many in the community and while it is frustrating to see time after time “under new management” and the seemingly failing of the building, I see some light currently.
There is vision. I’ve seen ideas thrown out of how to utilize the facility. I have seen those ideas coming to light. I have heard of the conversations being had by organizations looking for a place to call home for their events. I have heard the collaboration of area businesses looking to come together and give life to the facility. I want to have hope that something good can happen by shifting the focus to a more usable community center. Opening the doors to a wider variety of events will bring a wider demographic of the surrounding area to the arena.
That hope of success, that optimism, is why I voted to release the funds to the arena for much needed infrastructure repairs. The facility can’t succeed if it is falling apart. That hope of bettering the community through tourism is at the heart of why most of us have voted to give ARP funds to the different organizations that have presented a strong case and solid plans for their projects.
But rest assured, the realist side of me was at work too. With every purchase, there must be accountability. If accountability is not forthcoming, I will be at the head of the line demanding the transparency of what progress is being made and how the funds are being spent. I will be asking for updates continually.
I fully recognize that there are members of the community that are simply against putting any funds into a building that wasn’t wanted from the beginning. I get it. I truly do. If there had not been a strong case made for potential success and a vision given that I can support, I would be right there too. I was willing – this one time on my watch – to vote yes. I would rather see this effort made now, than to either see the building fall to ruin becoming a bigger blight in the city or have to put much more into seeing it torn down with no real plan for the area.
Lawana Morse represents Chemung County’s First Legislative District.
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