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$99M Arena Opens in Downtown Des Moines

Wed August 03, 2005 - Midwest Edition
CEG



DES MOINES, IA (AP) The city’s $99 million showcase arena opened and skateboard phenom Tony Hawk is coming to get things started. Radical, dude.

Hawk’s “Boom Boom Huck Jam” will be the first event in the 16,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena, the centerpiece of the $217 million Iowa Events Center just north of downtown Des Moines.

“Things are humming,” said general manager Andy Long. “All we’re hearing is a lot of excitement.”

Apparently, Long hasn’t talked to Edgar Kintzer, 77, of Des Moines.

“It will take an awful lot of big-time shows to pay for itself,” Kintzer said. “It’s not realistic.”

That’s the biggest question surrounding the arena. Will it become a glitzy palace that keeps people coming back or a drain on the Polk County treasury?

“There is a honeymoon period, and it’s particularly strong the first year. People will come for just the newness factor,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a concert trade publication. “After that, there are no absolutes. It really depends on how nice a building it is and how well they run it. That takes some time.”

The arena, built with state grants and Polk County taxpayer money, is expected to help Des Moines attract big-name concerts and events.

Paul McCartney’s concert in October sold out the day tickets went on sale. In all, 50 events have been scheduled for the arena’s first year, including rock singer Tom Petty and the punk-rock band, Green Day. Neither of those concerts are sellouts.

The arena also will be the home of the Iowa Stars of American Hockey League, the sport’s top minor league. The state high school wrestling and basketball tournaments will be played at the arena each year and the building will host first- and second-round games in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in 2008.

Iowa State, Drake and Northern Iowa will play basketball games at the arena in the upcoming season.

Other components of the Events Center are the newly constructed Hy-Vee Hall, which includes the Iowa Hall of Pride, renovated Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Polk County Convention Complex, which is four blocks to the south.

Construction costs will be paid off mainly by gambling profits from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona.

Long estimates the arena will turn a $1.1 million profit in its first full year. But the Events Center’s three other components are expected to lose $977,280 in the budget year that started this month. Taxpayers will have to pick up that tab.

Entertainment experts say the arena’s success depends on having a permanent tenant, such as the hockey team, and creating a buzz that will draw consistently large crowds for concerts.

Long said 2,000 season tickets have been sold for the Iowa Stars, who will play 40 regular-season home games, and most of the 36 luxury suites have been leased.

Tom Hockensmith, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, said he and other county leaders are confident the arena will draw healthy crowds and steadily increase revenue.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Hockensmith said. “But I think we’ve put ourselves in the best possible position we can be in to be successful.”