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Dane Co. health rules take games and expos elsewhere

Published: Jan. 31, 2021 at 10:23 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Coronavirus restrictions in Dane Co. are sending convention-goers elsewhere, at great cost.

In a typical year, about two million people pass through the event halls of the Alliant Energy Center, according to executive director Brent McHenry. However, in 2020, mass events like the World Dairy Expo and the CrossFit Games have been replaced by mass testing and vaccination.

“We’ve lost almost 100 percent of our business,” McHenry said, explaining last year’s loss amounted to almost $3 million. “We’re on target to lose that or more this year, but we’ve been able to scale things back.”

McHenry’s hands are tied by local law, which caps indoor gatherings at ten people. The limit is enforced by Dane Co. officials, the same ones who own the building.

“Although it does put us in an awkward position to say we cant hold events, we also are very supportive of [the local laws] because we understand that we’re providing a resource to support the emergency response,” McHenry said.

Alliant’s loss has been another’s gain. Come March, the Wisconsin Open Season Sportsman’s Expo will head to the Wisconsin Dells in Sauk Co., where there are no capacity laws.

“Dane Co.’s not doing any mass events. Other counties are,” Chris O’Hara, the vertical outdoor director for the event, said. He continued, he’s leaving the Alliant Energy Center behind after more than 30 expos there. He’s heading for the Kalahari Resort Convention Center. A spokesperson with the center declined an interview with NBC15.

O’Hara said masks will be required, as mandated by the state. “At the end of the day, if we’re allowed to do it and we can do it safely, there’s no reason not to,” he said.

Last season, Forward Madison FC trained in Wisconsin Dells and played its home games to Wauwatosa. Owner and chief operating officer Chris Caloia said the decision to travel followed a local order that prevented the team from playing at Breese Stevens Field downtown.

With the order, still in effect, the team is now weighing options for where to play this upcoming season, which begins May 8. “Yeah, it’s weird,” Caloia said. “We’re Madison’s team. We want to play in Madison.”

He said Forward Madison is the only pro-soccer team, out of 70 in the country, that was not allowed to practice in the market.

“Honestly it would’ve been more affordable to not play,” he said. “But we had a commitment to our league and our fans. The losses were not catastrophic but were rough. While 2020 was rough, unless something changes too, we think 2021 will be worse financially just looking at the current restrictions.”

Forward Madison will announce where it will play in the coming months, according to Caloia.

The Alliant Energy Center, according to its executive director, has scheduled large events June onward, though that could change at any moment. McHenry said the center has been able to bring in some revenue, by hosting small, outdoor events and renting out storage and hotel space.

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