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Countdown to coliseum

Countdown to coliseum

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BLOOMINGTON Three months and two weeks.

That's the time remaining on construction of the city of Bloomington's $37 million U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The 7,000-seat arena is expected to open March 31.

On Monday, members of the Bloomington City Council toured the facility during their monthly work session. For several aldermen, it was their first time in the building.

"It's a lot more detailed in here than I imagined," said Alderman Karen Schmidt as she overlooked the arena floor in an area of the building that eventually will be a restaurant.

Project superintendent Chuck Thomas, of general contractor Johnston Contractors, said the arena will be finished by the deadline. Construction will continue on the public Pepsi Ice Rink, which is attached to the coliseum, after the building opens.

"The building will be ready," Thomas said. "We've got the heat on, the roof on and now it is just a race to the finish."

For Mayor Steve Stockton, the construction of the coliseum has been the least of his worries.

"One can't help but walk into the arena part and imagine a team playing hockey, a concert of some kind taking place and the seats filled with people," Stockton said. "Now we have to make sure the programming is there so we can break even or better."

The city recently resolved a question of who will run the arena when it signed a contract with Central Illinois Arena Management.

A federal lawsuit with Bloomington Partners, a group with whom the council voided its operating contract, is still pending.

The key is people

Fourteen months of construction have gone by since the August 2004 ground breaking.

While aldermen touring the facility had positive comments about the building, several agreed there?~s much to be done to ensure success once construction is completed.

Alderman Steven Purcell, who ran for office while voicing criticism of the council's decision to build the coliseum, said he wants to see the project succeed because it will lessen the burden on taxpayers to pick up the tab.

"It's a very appealing building, and it has a very nice feel to it," Purcell said. "Hopefully we can get people in here to enjoy it."

Alderman Kevin Huette agreed.

"The key is going to be getting people in here," Huette said. "Once they get a taste of what this building is and can be, I think they will come back."

Huette said he hopes the entertainment already booked for the coliseum will be a positive start. Smucker's Stars on Ice and country singer Martina McBride are scheduled to perform.

Melissa Ash, a spokeswoman for Central Illinois Arena Management, said ticket sales for both events are going well.

She said 1,500 tickets for the McBride show were sold in a matter of minutes when sales opened Dec. 2.

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