The Children's Zoo. The Allen County Public Library's genealogy and Lincoln collections. Parks, shopping, culture and cuisine. No list of Fort Wayne tourist magnets would be complete without them.
But very quickly and in relative obscurity, this city's amateur athletic scene has become very big business – and is about to get much, much bigger.
“When we opened the ice facility, the volleyball people said, 'What about us?' ” RCI Development's Todd Ramsey said as he stood in the cavernous 57,000-square-foot Sport One-Parkview Fieldhouse scheduled to open late this year next to the Lutheran Health Sportscenter on Ice Way. RCI answered with a $7.5 million investment expected to attract 1 million or more volleyball and basketball players every year – many of them visitors who will spend money in local stores, hotels and restaurants.
“The addition of volleyball is another asset. In the last five years Fort Wayne has made quite a substantial investment (in amateur sports) and we have become heavily invested in promoting sports tourism,” said Dan O'Connell, president of Visit Fort Wayne.
His organization's statistics only begin to get at the full story. More than 80 amateur sporting events will be held in Fort Wayne this year involving more than 115,000 people and more than $19 million of economic impact, but hundreds of thousands of people from Fort Wayne who in the past had to leave town to play will also use those facilities -- which means their dollars stay here.
In addition to RCI's $14 million ice facility, which opened in 2010, that five-year local sports growth spurt O'Connell mentioned included improvements to facilities at IPFW and, of course, Parkview Field downtown, which is available to amateurs as well as the professional TinCaps. Add in the new volleyball facility and the $10 million Spiece Fieldhouse, which opened more than a decade ago at 5310 Merchandise Drive and hosts basketball tournaments that attracts hundreds of thousands of people annually, and the city's north side is about to provide the density, affordability and proximity to hotel, restaurants, shopping and other amenities O'Connell said are sought by people who schedule sports tournaments.
RCI's ice rink attracts about 500,000 visitors each year, but partner Andy Norton said the new field house – which can be configured for six basketball courts or eight volleyball courts – may attract two or three times than number. Several tournaments and other events have already been scheduled.
Students of civic renewal know that Indianapolis' rebirth began in the 1970s with a focus on amateur sports. And while it might be unrealistic to expect similar results here, it worth's remembering how far this city has come – and how quickly.
It was just four years ago that Ramsey and I stood in a rubble-strewn, overgrown 21-acre lot just west of Glenbrook Square and discussed his dream of a new three-sheet ice arena. The fact that it was eventually built – with almost no government financial support – was impressive enough. But its success also convinced Ramsey, Norton and other RCI partners that another privately funded sports facility was not only possible, but potentially profitable.
There are no guarantees, of course, which is why it is important for everyone involved to work together for the common good. Athletes With Purpose, a sports training service, will move from its current home in the ASH Centre on Freeman Street to the new field house. And as O'Connell noted, the new facility and Spiece (which was also privately funded) can either be competitors or “synergistic.” Norton wisely appears to have chosen the latter course.
“We've been talking to Spiece about taking their overflow. We're going after different markets, but more is better,” he said.
That principle applies to marketing as well, and O'Connell said it's important that some entity – perhaps the Fort Wayne Sports Corp. – develop a budget a plan to promote the city's roster of sports facilities, which he called among the best in the Midwest.
He'd also like to see RCI's new facility drop “field house” from its name, to prevent confusion with Spiece which was, after all, here first.
Whether "field house" ultimately goes, however, the Parkview name will stay – meaning Fort Wayne's two rival hospitals have each recognized the value of being identified with amateur sports facilities on opposite sides of the street. Lutheran's just hosted an international curling tournament, of all things.
So how much did Parkview pay?
“Less than it paid for (naming rights at) Parkview Field,” Norton said -- $3 million over 10 years.