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Farewell bid to Brown County Arena

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – After having hosted a variety of events for the past 60-plus years, a farewell ceremony was held Monday, April 29, for the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

The arena, along with Shopko Hall and the former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame building, will be torn down starting this spring to make room on the site for a new expo center, which is scheduled to be completed by January 2021.

Speakers at the arena’s farewell ceremony included Brown County Board Chairman Patrick Moynihan Jr., who paid tribute to the veterans for which the building was named.

“Though this building will soon no longer exist, let it be known that its spirit and those that inspired its naming shall ever flourish in the new Brown County Veterans Memorial Complex,” Moynihan said. “But more importantly, its spirit, and the spirit of those who served and died shall forever remain in the hearts of those who passed through these doors.”

Ashwaubenon Village President Mary Kardoskee wears a Green Bay Bobcat jersey Monday, April 29, in recognition of the former United States Hockey League team that played at the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

Ashwaubenon Village President Mary Kardoskee wore a Green Bay Bobcats jersey to remember the former United States Hockey League team that played in the arena.

“I wore the Bobcat jersey today, because that’s what I remember growing up is coming to Bobcat games,” Kardoskee said. “I was at concerts here and Bobcat games… There’s a lot of memories in this building for a lot of people.”

Brad Toll, CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, which had been housed in the arena since the organization was founded in 1969 and is now in temporary quarters prior to building a new 12,500-square-foot visitor center near Interstate 41 and Lombardi Avenue off of Argonne Street, said the new expo center will have the technology to host events held today.

“It needs to be updated, and by doing that, we’re going to provide memories for the next generations,” Toll said. “Then 60 years from now, they’ll be talking about these same kinds of things – their first concerts and getting a flu shot.”

Ken Wachter, president of PMI Entertainment Group, which has managed the arena, said arenas typically last 25-30 years before they are renovated or demolished.

“It’s a venue that has served its purpose and been a great asset to the community for 60 years,” Wachter said. “For a building like this to last 60 years, the people who take care of it have to really like it… This (new) expo hall is going to be second to none.”

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach went over the history of the arena and thanked the local municipalities which supported the construction of a new expo center.

“In recognizing the challenge to fund a large venue of this size, it was required that the community be a part of it,” Streckenbach said. “I was really pleased to know that the municipal leaders, who ultimately control room tax dollars, the heads and beds tax, were willing to partner with Brown County in this venture, similar to ways that we partnered with the Resch Center, the way we partnered with (the KI Convention Center).”

PMI Entertainment Group President Ken Wachter speaks Monday, April 29, at Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena closing ceremony while joined on stage, from left, by Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Brad Toll, Brown County Board Chairman Patrick Moynihan Jr., Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach, Ashwaubenon Village President Mary Kardoskee and former WLUK Sports Director John Maino.

A memorandum of understanding between the village of Ashwaubenon and Brown County to build the expo center is similar to what was put together for the construction of the Resch Center.

The village’s Community Development Authority issued revenue bonds with the county taking on that debt while leasing the space prior to the county owning the facility once the debt is paid in full.

The expo center, for which the plans call for more than 120,000 square feet of usable space, has a total budget of $93 million.

Funds to pay for the project include $4.5 million from the stadium tax refund, the village working with the county to raise a total of $8 million in naming rights with another $15 million coming from the new half-percent county sales tax and the bulk of the funds coming from room tax dollars.

Arena seat memorabilia

Those on hand for the arena’s final sendoff were able to take away two folding chairs for free and purchase fixed arena seating in four-seat rows for $50 apiece.

Ryan Borowicz, who runs The Driveway basketball training center in Hobart, said he purchased some of the fixed seats for his business, which will be expanding this summer and adding 8,600 square feet.

“Before I even heard that they were going to sell the chairs, I contacted some people and said, ‘Hey, is there any chance – if you’re going be just getting rid of everything – could I get some of the chairs, because it had special meaning for me as a kid when I grew up sitting right up there and watching games and then achieving my dream of playing here,” said Borowicz, who played basketball at the arena in the 1990s with Ashwaubenon High School and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “I wanted to have a piece of that history at my facility, because I’m trying to inspire kids and help them reach their dreams.”

Ryan Borowicz, front, begins to haul out the first of six sets of four seats he purchased for $50 a row while others carry out two folding chairs for free following the Monday, April 29, closing ceremony for the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, which is being torn down to make room for a new expo center.

Though Borowicz said he doesn’t know exactly at this point where he’ll install the seats at The Driveway, one likely place could be a mezzanine area where there will be seating.

“I honestly would have kept buying them, but I just didn’t know exactly where to put them,” he said. “I’ve got 16 (seats for) myself. Another teammate is getting eight of them for his house. I just wanted to make sure I got some. I might even put a couple in my house just for fun.”

Brown County Board Supervisor Bernie Erickson was among those leaving the arena with two folding chairs in hand.

“It’s kind of a commemorative item, and I don’t know what my wife’s reaction is going to be when I get home with a couple chairs, but I know I got a veteran that I fish with that definitely wanted one,” Erickson said. “He couldn’t make it today, so I’m going to give him one. I’m sure I’ll find a place at home for the other one.”

Erickson called the closing of the arena to make way for the expo center “a new day for a new facility.”

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