WILKES-BARRE TWP. ‚?? Arena supporters like Kevin Blaum had enough on their plates just getting the place built without having to worry about including a restaurant in the facility.
Foremost in their minds was making sure there was an ice rink for a hockey team and seats for fans. The frills and amenities could be added later.
‚??We envisioned a restaurant needed to be part of the arena in the future. That was part of the dream,‚?Ě Blaum said Thursday.
Thirteen years after the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza opened officials Wednesday announced plans for a 20,000-square-foot addition to offer dining options to people attending events there.
Blaum, former chairman of the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority Board that oversees the arena, was instrumental in getting the nearly $39 million project built in 1999.
He recalled discussions with other board members at local restaurants and plans drawn on napkins.
‚??Always the goal of the arena was to proceed when you had the money,‚?Ě Blaum said.
It has operated in the black and prudently spent on improvements and upkeep, he said.
‚??It is so important that the arena continue to be refurbished,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It‚??s been 13 years (since it opened). That‚??s a lot of wear and tear.‚?Ě
The arena board and facility manager SMG refinanced $12 million in bonds to make available more than $8 million to pay for capital improvements including the expansion expected to be finished in two years.
They justified the project as a necessary amenity to attract people to concerts, shows and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey games and to capture some of the money spent at bars and restaurants outside the arena.
Blaum doesn‚??t see an arena restaurant taking away business from other places. After all, the arena played a big part in drawing local and national franchise restaurants and big box stores to the area.
‚??I think it will complement all of the stores up there,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It will get people up in that area to shop and buy and do other things.‚?Ě
Projects such as arenas are looked at as economic generators, added Linda Deckard, publisher and editor-in-chief of Venues Today magazine.
Deckard, who is familiar with the local arena, said more and more arenas have districts around them where people can eat, drink and shop.
‚??It doesn‚??t really cost anybody else business,‚?Ě she said.
Large or small, venues include sit-down restaurants as amenities to attract people who might otherwise stay at home and watch games on their high-definition flat screen TVs while eating and drinking. Another advantage is that once at the arena or stadium, ticket holders can stay afterwards and not have to worry about driving to a bar or restaurant.
‚??They are looking for every avenue that makes the fan experience better,‚?Ě Deckard said.
Fans have responded with their wallets.
According to the National Restaurant Association‚??s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, the recreation and sports center segment is projected to have $5.8 billion in sales, a 4.7 percent increase from 2011. The industry overall is expected to show $632 billion in sales, an increase of 3.5 percent from last year.
Annika Stensson, a spokesman for the restaurant association, said many venues contract with outside companies for food service, ‚??but can also allow for branded ownership.‚?Ě
In the case of the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Deckard said a restaurant likely would have a local connection. ‚??It‚??s going to be something that screams Wilkes-Barre,‚?Ě she said.