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Dane County revisiting cost estimates for Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall expansion

Dane County revisiting cost estimates for Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall expansion

Expo Hall design rendering

A design rendering of an expanded Exhibition Hall on the Alliant Energy Center campus 

Financial estimates from an engineering firm overseeing the redevelopment of the Alliant Energy Center campus indicate the cost of expanding Exhibition Hall could be approximately $130 million. 

A master plan released in December 2018 estimated that the cost of expanding Exhibition Hall at $91 million. That plan also estimated the full cost of the first phase of redevelopment to be $109 million, which has now increased to $177 million, according to Strang, Inc. 

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi questioned the estimates and in a letter dated Oct. 25, asked Mark Clarke, director of the Alliant Energy Center, to evaluate alternatives. Parisi asked for an estimate on the cost of developing a 50,000-square-foot ballroom attached to the Exhibition Hall instead of one within it. 

“Let’s determine what we can afford, set a budget, and then see what we can build for that dollar amount,” Parisi said.   

The most recent estimates would cost the county $11.5 million each year in debt service over the next two decades. The debt service on only the Exhibition Hall work would be $8.5 million annually for 20 years. 

“When paired with the jail project, in which the final, actual cost is likely to be more than budgeted, how we proceed in the coming years with the AEC needs careful consideration,” Parisi said. 

In July, the county approved an additional $74 million to consolidate jail facilities, adding to $76 million approved in the 2018 budget. 

Strang Inc. has been working on pre-design work for the Alliant Energy Center project since July. A master plan for the 164-acre campus previously approved by the Dane County Board of Supervisors called for approximately $300 million in public and private investment to create a more walkable, sustainable destination with meeting space, hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. 

The venue hosts events such as the World Dairy Expo, Midwest Horse Fair, Brat Fest and CrossFit games, which bring in visitors and revenue for the county. The expansion is expected to draw larger events.  

Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said tight competition in the construction market and tariffs increasing costs of materials affected the financial estimates. 

“We all pretty much agreed that we need to take another look at this,” Corrigan said. 

Alliant Energy Center's director Clarke was also not surprised by the estimates given the demand for construction and labor. He also pointed out that the master plan presents an overarching direction, while specific budget numbers shape during later phases of planning. 

“It’s not uncommon for your numbers to come in higher than initially thought,” Clarke said. “The beauty of the way the master plan was set up is that we can look at different pieces of the master plan. You don’t have to do everything tomorrow.” 

Looking ahead to 2020, Strang will begin work on schematic designs for the Exhibition Hall expansion. The Dane County Board added an amendment for $495,000 to the executive’s budget proposal for this work.  

The Alliant Energy Center Redevelopment Committee meets Monday at 3 p.m. in the board room on the second floor of Exhibition Hall but will not discuss the cost estimates. Corrigan said the meeting will be to “set the stage next year and for moving forward.” 

The committee’s first meeting in 2020 is scheduled for Feb. 17. 

“Hopefully Strang will have numbers for us that are more in line with what we’ve been talking about,” Corrigan said. 

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