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190830_redlion (copy)

This 2019 photo shows the Red Lion hotel shortly after it closed in Downtown St. Joseph.

The City Council is investing money in making the Civic Arena a viable venue again in St. Joseph.

Longtime residents can remember the days, not so long ago, when the arena was a place of excitement for all ages. High school teams played basketball in this facility, and only a decade ago the arena hosted the NCAA Women’s Division II Basketball Championship. The National Federation of Professional Bullriders held finals at the Civic Arena for an extended period.

In recent years, the arena sits as a reminder of what used to be. However, thanks to forward-thinking investment by the City Council, along with new plans from the city’s parks department, new possibilities are on the horizon. This last weekend, the arena was the site of the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

The funds used for improvements to the Downtown arena are expected to come from the American Rescue Plan Act and the city’s newly passed parks tax. The parks department has stated its desire for a steady restoration before events like the Division II Women’s Basketball Championships in March of 2023.

But to breathe new life into the Civic Arena, a broader approach will be necessary. In the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” the voice urging the lead character to build a baseball diamond out of cornfield says to the lead character, “If you build it, they will come.”

The future of the Civic Arena depends on not just building it — or in this case improving it — but also in developing partnerships to help support new events.

In the case of the arena, finding ways to partner with businesses and to develop the Downtown hotel is essential. The City Council recently took a step in this direction with the approval of $10,000 toward redevelopment of a Downtown hotel that closed two years ago. While it will cost considerably more to get this building reopened, we support this initial effort because it will be difficult to bring events to the Civic Arena without a viable hotel in the area.

In addition, the city could explore options for using a third-party entity for marketing and promotions at the Civic Arena and the Missouri Theater. That option was discussed a few months ago and should be revived as the city takes steps toward improving the Civic Arena. The Missouri Theater, which uses outside entities for most promotions and marketing, already is the busier of the two facilities.

Other improvements regarding infrastructure, including better roads, parking and accessibility, will allow greater enjoyment and usage of the arena for years to come. It truly can become an even greater asset to the city, something we all caught a glimpse of at the basketball tournament over the weekend.

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