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Talks of a downtown arena have faded some now that John Q. Hammons has committed to an arena at Missouri State University.
Talks of a downtown arena have faded some now that John Q. Hammons has committed to an arena at Missouri State University.

What about downtown?

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The main financing arm for an arena in Jordan Valley Park has made other plans.

Springfield businessman John Q. Hammons is no longer interested in financing a downtown arena; it appears his $25 million stake in Missouri State University’s new sports arena, announced Feb. 10, has scuttled Hammons’ downtown plans.

“Where’s the market for it?” Hammons rhetorically asked of the downtown arena days after going public with MSU Foundation’s largest gift. “You can’t build arenas unless you have the use for them, and you have to fill them.”

The Springfield market, Hammons said, doesn’t have room for two arenas, despite the size and use differences: MSU’s $60 million, 12,000-seat facility for university basketball, regional and national tournaments or concerts vs. Jordan Valley’s proposed $20 million to $25 million, 5,000-seat space for arena football, semiprofessional ice hockey or athletic tournaments.

The city had hung its hopes on Hammons’ arena money after watching him come through on the $32 million Hammons Field, now the centerpiece of Jordan Valley Park activity with Springfield Cardinals and MSU baseball. The team of Hammons, the city and Springfield architects Pellham Phillips a year ago unveiled designs of the downtown arena. They even named it JQH Arena, the name that now belongs to MSU’s facility.

Hammons said university officials decided not to support an off-campus facility, so the space next to the current Hammons Student Center was proposed.

City officials remain optimistic but understand the situation’s urgency.

“(The space) is not going to stay green forever,” said City Manager Tom Finnie, adding that the smaller downtown arena is not out of the question despite funding issues.

City officials have labeled the arena as the next big piece to the Jordan Valley Park puzzle. It is slated to connect the Springfield Exposition Center and Car Park on St. Louis Street, as signage on the vacant lot and above the Expo Center’s exit doors indicate.

“We’ve had conversations for several years, both with (former MSU President John) Keiser and with (current MSU President Michael) Nietzel, and we all agreed consistently that the larger arena doesn’t really have much impact on the need for the smaller arena,” Finnie added. “What we are interested in is something that would attract tournaments, and those are people that come in for three or four days at a time. That’s a whole different market.”

Tracy Kimberlin, executive director of the Spring-field Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed, adding that there would be very little competition between the two facilities.

“If you just look at the number of seats, you can make the assumption that the larger arena would be twice as expensive to rent, if not more,” Kimberlin said. “If you’ve got an event that’s going to attract 5,000 people, why in the world would you want to put them in a 12,500-seat arena and pay the rental on that?”

Turning to other funding options, Finnie said the city would look at state funds to act as seed money to draw other interested investors. A state matching dollars program would be appropriate, Finnie said, as most visitors to the area come by car and would boost tax revenues with purchases in Springfield and other Missouri towns along their routes.

Plan B for the space is a hotel or major restaurant.

“We’ve already had contacts from a couple of hotels looking at that location,” Finnie said. “The arena would serve an identified community need; a hotel would be positive in that it would provide more tax, but we already have hotels. We don’t have that size of an arena.”

Still, Hammons has his doubts about a second arena.

“You can’t do anything if there isn’t a market,” said Hammons, who has developed 163 properties by anticipating the right spots to build and knowing the right times to jump in. “You can’t sell pumpkins unless somebody’s going to come by and buy them.”

Hammons’ goal for the MSU arena is to draw bigger sporting events, including possible early-round games in the national men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments.

“When they changed (their name) to Missouri State, that carries a lot of responsibility, and I think they’re up to stepping up and doing better,” Hammons said. “With MSU growing to enrollment of 24,000 to 26,000 in the near future, that will handle more over there. The whole area needed it, and it was easy to do – the land was available and all you have to pay is the cost of the construction of the unit itself.”

JQH’s Gifts

The new JQH Arena, set for completion in November 2008, is not the first project John Q. Hammons has built for Missouri State University.

• Hammons Student Center opened in the fall of 1976.

• Hammons Fountains, in front of Duane G. Meyer Library, were completed in 1980.

• Hammons House, a residence hall built by Hammons, opened in 1986 and accommodates nearly 600 students.

• Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts opened in 1992, followed by another fountain a year later.

• While not a university property, Hammons Field has been home to MSU’s baseball team since the stadium opened in 2004.

JQH Arena Specs

Plans for the Missouri State campus arena call for two seating bowls, each holding about 6,000 seats, with 20 luxury boxes between the two levels according to project architect Larry Pellham of Pellham Phillips.

Hammons Student Center will turn into a university practice facility and possibly a recreation center for students, though exact plans have not been finalized.

Funding for JQH Arena will be split between Hammons, who will give $25 million through a $5 million donation and cover $20 million in debt service, and the university, which will cover the remaining $35 million through a combination of revenue from the new arena and $5 million in donations.

MSU Vice President of University Advancement Greg Onstot said getting the $5 million in donations won’t be too difficult with corporate naming opportunities in the new arena.

“In most arenas you go into, concourses are named, entrances are named, halls of fame are named, the club room can be named,” he said. “We hope there are a lot of naming opportunities that will allow us to move forward and get close to generating that $5 million.”

No donors have been lined up yet for the new facility.

Click here to see renderings of JQH Arena by Pellham Phillips.[[In-content Ad]]

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