C.R. needs new game plan for state volleyball

City offers incentives to keep tourney after Cellular Center delays

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CEDAR RAPIDS — “Option A” is out, but there’s another idea on the table.

Mayor Ron Corbett and Mike Dick, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, said Thursday that the U.S. Cellular Center won’t be renovated in time to host this fall’s state volleyball tournament.

“Obviously, we’re a little disappointed,” Dick said. “I think the people from Cedar Rapids were disappointed they had to tell us the news, and we were disappointed to hear it.”

The annual tournament has been held in the city since 1991. It was housed at the downtown arena through 2010, but it was moved to the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena last year as a temporary fix to accommodate construction. That constituted a breach of the contract that runs through 2015, so the athletic union’s rent of $27,500 was waived for 2011.

Plans had called for the event, scheduled for Nov. 7 to 10, to return to the Cellular Center this year.

“It’s never easy to eat crow, because we told them it would be ready,” Corbett said of the arena. “But it’s not. So we’re trying to move forward with this long-standing relationship that we’ve had with the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.”

He said Cedar Rapids is offering the organization a five-year financial incentive package to keep the tournament in the city if it agrees to use the 3,800-seat Ice Arena again this fall. The offer includes free rent at the Ice Arena again this year and at the Cellular Center in 2013 and 2014, plus discounted rent at the Cellular Center in 2015 and 2016.

Dick, one of four athletic union officials who toured the Cellular Center and met with city officials Thursday, said his group needs to discuss the proposal.

“Our board (of directors) meets May 19, and that will certainly be on the agenda,” he said.

Corbett said in February that the event has brought $18 million in spending to Cedar Rapids over the last 10 years.

Volleyball is one of four girls’ sports (softball, basketball and golf are the others) that are expanding from four classes to five, which raises the number of tournament-qualifying teams from 32 to 40. So wherever the event happens, attendance — 24,400 last year — and revenue are expected to jump 25 percent in 2012.

Cellular Center project manager John Frew said two weeks ago that the facility’s availability would be determined by “whether we can have all the life-safety systems in place — the smoke alarms, evacuation plans, water and sprinkler systems.”

Apparently, they won’t, but Frew said he guarantees that the site will be ready in 2013.

“From what I saw today, I am very comfortable that it will be ready next year,” Dick said Thursday.

But next year is next year. This year’s tournament is only six months away, and there are decisions to be made.

“Given this is the second year in a row the Cellular Center hasn’t been ready, I think this puts us in a strong bargaining position,” Dick said.

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