CORALVILLE — How do you open an arena in the midst of a pandemic?
Leaders behind Coralville’s Xtream Arena and GreenState Family Fieldhouse are going to find out.
From a construction standpoint, $71.3 million complex — which will feature a 6,000-seat arena, fieldhouse and mixed-use/museum building — is on track, said Jason McKane, senior construction manager with Mortenson Construction. McKane said the contractor intends to hand the building over to ArenaCo — the nonprofit community development corporation formed to own and operate the arena — at the end of August.
“We’re focused on wrapping this thing up here over the summer,” McKane said. “With everything that’s going on in the world ... it’s been a fun challenge. We’re moving ahead with that same end date in mind for the ownership.”
Completing the arena is one story. But filling it with entertainment and fans is another story.
“We were within a week or two in late March of announcing our first show and series of events that were going to be taking place in September and October, a bit of a schedule for some grand open celebrations,” said Josh Schamberger, Think Iowa City president and ArenaCo board member. “All of that is in flux now.”
ArenaCo has been working with Spectra Venue and Stafford Sports — the organizations tasked with managing events at the arena and fieldhouse — to develop various scenarios for reopening and financial models for those opening dates, Schamberger said. Those scenarios include opening in September, October or December.
“Depending on where that goes, we’ll start to organize and rally around those dates,” Schamberger said. “From a programming standpoint, it’s incredibly challenging. You can open a pretty new building and everything can be exciting ... but you can’t host anything. That’s been really tough to swallow personally.”
The University of Iowa volleyball team, which will play its home schedule at the Xtream Arena, will play a large role in deciding the opening date. Schamberger said officials haven’t received assurance from UI Athletics on when or if the season will begin. Without volleyball, it might not make sense to open an arena that won’t be hosting any events, Schamberger said.
“We want programmable space,” he said. “We want acts and concerts and shows. But we also want people to be able to sit there and listen and buy a ticket. There are a lot of questions in the air on that front.”
Schamberger said they are within a couple of weeks of finalizing an agreement with a hockey team tenant and said “there’s been some good movement on that as of late.” He expects an announcement to be made in the next few weeks. A letter of intent also has been completed for the arena’s team store, Schamberger said.
“We need some good news,” he said. “We’re looking forward to that.”
Schamberger said the GreenState Family Fieldhouse will open in September, with AAU basketball program All Iowa Attack contracted to use the fieldhouse two nights a week and 26 weekends a year.
Other activities — including recreation pickleball leagues and other community events — are up in the air, Schamberger said.
Jack Ligon was brought in by Spectra as the arena and fieldhouse’s interim general manager in February and became the full-time general manager in early March. Then everything changed.
Ligon said he’s been focused on understanding the impact of COVID-19 and preparing for an eventual reopening.
“A lot of the things we’re looking at are the different scenarios,” Ligon said. “There are a lot of unknowns right now. You have to make those contingency plans. ... Everything is changing daily, hourly.”
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Ligon said a benefit of not being open yet is that as other venues around the country do open, the arena complex will be able to learn from those experiences. But even if they are able book acts, Ligon said they have to weigh whether people will feel comfortable going to sporting events and other performances.
“We’re excited about (the arena), we’re excited to show it off, but we want to make sure it makes sense for the greater community,” he said.
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