An article in the today’s Evansville Courier & Press explores their community’s decision to either expand their existing facility or build a new one downtown.  This is exactly where Fort Wayne was in the late 90s.  In fact, they spoke with Linda Bloom, Allen County Commissioner about the decision to raise and renovate the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum rather than build a new sports complex downtown in the same area as now occupied by Harrison Square.

The Allen County Commissioners at that time included Ed Rosseau, Marla Irvin and Bloom.  At the 11th hour, a suggestion made by then City Councilman Sam Talarico Jr. in a council meeting, gained momentum as a group of local businessmen coalesced to present a proposal to build a multi-use sports arena/complex downtown.  The idea came too late and received no leeway or support from the Allen County Commissioners.  It was truly another epic battle in the County vs City war that seems to be alive, even today.

County Commissioner Bloom is quoted in the article:

By all accounts, Fort Wayne’s renovation has been a success. So how did it work?

In the late 1990s, a discussion began over what to do with the coliseum, said Allen County Commissioner Linda K. Bloom.

“Our building was not in disrepair,” Bloom said. “It just needed to expand for the same reasons Evansville needs to expand. We wanted bigger, better shows and more events. We wanted more seats.”

So they studied the options. Doing nothing seemed to be too big of a risk. Cost estimates for a new stadium in downtown Fort Wayne were around $100 million. But downtown didn’t have the infrastructure, land or parking needed for a new arena, Bloom said.

The coliseum, by comparison, already had 5,000 parking spaces and plenty of room for expansion. It’s located 1.5 miles from downtown and close to Interstate 69.

“All of those are huge issues,” Bloom said.

A decision was made to renovate, and the county chose to pay for it by adding a penny tax on food and beverages. There were some naysayers, but overall public support “was amazing, really good support in my opinion,” Bloom said. “We dug our feet in as commissioners and felt we were making the right decision. … It just made really good sense to do what we did.”

She said the coliseum puts $100 million into the Fort Wayne metro economy.

The city’s new downtown minor league baseball stadium, which is scheduled to open next year, is part of a $125 million development called Harrison Square that includes a hotel, parking garage, retail space and 60 condominium units. Brown said the city approved the project, despite not generating much public support. She says some city leaders bill it as a way to bring young professionals back to the city. Several people who spoke at a public hearing on the future of Roberts Stadium speculated that a new Downtown arena would do the same thing in Evansville.

“‘Would my children move back? No.” Bloom said.

“Build it, and they will come? I don’t think so.”

(Webmaster’s note: If I remember correctly, some repairs were needed for the Coliseum, but at this point, it’s neither here nor there.)

Thanks to Disenfranchised American for the heads up.

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