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Mountain America Center showing promise for moving forward

Mountain America Event center

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Tourism revenue is rising again after a drastic dip due to the pandemic, and the Idaho Falls Auditorium District is optimistic about moving forward with the Mountain America Center.

Rob Spear, executive director of the Idaho Falls Auditorium District, says IFAD received a maximum price of $57 million for building the event center in June. COVID-19 delayed the project because funding for the center comes from the 5% tax on hotel rooms when people pay to stay the night in Idaho Falls.

“That money comes back to the district and that is the basis for our ability to go and seek a 30 year financing plan to fund this event center,” Spear said. “We had a historic year in 2019 and we were ahead of that pace the first two months of our fiscal year in 2020. And then COVID hit.”

Spear says their revenue levels achieved 22% of their anticipated rate in April. He says their revenue has ramped up and is much healthier now, with 65% of normal in July, 72% in August, and up to 80% in September.

“It’s the right trajectory, but obviously we need to get those numbers close to 2019 levels to help us with our financing plan,” Spear said.

Spear says while room tax makes up the majority of funding for the project, another part of their financing comes from naming rights and sponsorship opportunities. According to Spear, right now IFAD has acquired roughly $54-$54.5 million of the projected $57 million total cost for the event center. He says funding for the $2.5 million deficit may come from rebidding or selling additional sponsorship.

“We are in the process of looking for other other community champions to step up and help us get to the finish line with this project,” Spear said.

Pepsi and MDU Foundation recently donated $500,000 each in an effort to help IFAD close the gap preventing them from moving the project forward.

Depending on the level of sponsorship, Spear says sponsors may benefit from donating to the Mountain America Center through recognition on the donor wall within the event center. There are also naming opportunities available for the inside of the arena, entryways, and the plaza entrance to the facility. Spear says sponsors could secure the naming rights to these areas for up to 20 years, depending on the amount given by the sponsor.

“This center is going to be built, now I think it’s time for the community to be a part of it and to be recognized on the donor wall so that 15 years from now, their name is still there on this facility and the next generation can see that they are making this happen,” Terry Gazdik, Chair of the Auditorium District said. "There is nothing like this in eastern Idaho and it’s going to draw close to half a million people to the area. That’s the whole area that influences from the middle of Idaho over to southern Montana, over to western Wyoming. That’s where we’re going to draw people from. So this center has the potential to be a huge influence on our community here in Idaho Falls.”

Gazdik says this event center will bring in a large revenue for our area and essentially help the economy boom. Snake River Landing businesses are also expected to benefit from the increased visitors to the event center.

The event center will also serve as a convention center that can draw in large crowds for boating and snowmobile shows. Previously, the city has had to turn away event opportunities like this due to not having a facility large enough to host such an event.

Early construction has already started to include a building pad in place with underground utilities installed for the Center in the Snake River Landing area where Event Center Drive and Pioneer Road meet. Spear says part of IFAD’s responsibility included redoing Pioneer Road and he says they have upheld that promise.

“The project is ready to go vertical, it is as shovel ready as any project in the country,” Spear said.

IFAD is optimistically hoping to begin vertical building of the Mountain America Center in Spring 2021.

Spear says Mountain America Center will be a multi-use event center.

“That’s the beauty of this, it’s going to be able to touch, in my opinion, every demographic in Eastern Idaho,” Spear said. “We hope it’s going to be a heavy emphasis on education and technology. STEM education is huge in this area and we really think there’s a lot of opportunity to bring a lot of events tied to that, as well as having basic community entertainment opportunities.”

Spear says the event center will host concerts, Cirque de Soleil, and ice shows to include Disney on Ice.

“Those significant entertainment opportunities are going to be a great benefit for the community,” Spear said.

Spear says IFAD aims to make hockey the main focal point of the event center and will host hockey games within the arena. He says starting with a junior hockey league is feasible for the time being. A minor league professional team may come later on down the road. IFAD staff hope having a local team to support will bring in community participation to boost the hockey team to a higher level.

“Idaho Falls is a very robust hockey community so we really think that hockey is the right sport to have in there as an anchor tenant,” Spear said. “The event center will also give us the opportunity to sponsor and hold court sport events, volleyball, basketball, even wrestling.”

Spear says when looking at high school state sporting events, eastern Idaho does not currently have a facility large enough to host those events. 

“This center will bring that,” Spear said. “We will have that opportunity and we will be able to bring people from other parts of this great state of Idaho to Idaho Falls to see how special it is here.”

Teams from Montana and Wyoming may also come to the event center to host and play their games, which will bring increased tourism to our area.

IFAD hopes with increasing room tax revenues, sponsorship donations for naming rights, and a proper financing plan in place, vertical building will begin in May of 2021 and the construction will be complete within 18 months. They are optimistic about hosting the first event in the new Mountain America Center in October, 2022.

IFAD held a construction meeting Thursday morning to discuss rebidding for the project. Spear says a project of this magnitude includes approximately 44 bid packages to include electrical, concrete, mechanical, and HVAC. Each is bid on separately and together equal the final cost of building. A clear understanding of each bid helps paint a clearer idea of the total building cost. IFAD answered bidders’ questions to give them a better understanding of their needs in an effort to obtain better and more accurate bids.

Idaho Falls residents will not see an increase to their property taxes to pay for this project.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Falls

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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