The economic anomaly of Parkview Field

It's a story often told in Fort Wayne: Parkview Field is a symbol of what can happen when people take chances on downtowns.

Greg Leatherman, the city’s former Director of Community Development, says the baseball stadium, in particular, was a hard sell in April 2007, when the mixed-use Harrison Square development was passed by 6-3 by City Council. But since the stadium opened in April 2009, it has attracted thousands of visitors and residents alike to the city's center.

As the TinCaps enter their 10th season this year, they're coming off a record-breaking attendance in 2017, upending expectations about downtown Fort Wayne's potential.

“Most people were against (Parkview Field) because (they) didn't understand it was going to be an entirely different experience (than Memorial Stadium),” Leatherman says, referring to the city's former minor league baseball stadium.

But while Parkview Field has certainly provided local residents with a new ballpark experience, it's also drawn attention to an "entirely different experience" in downtown development nationwide.

Across the country, baseball and other sports stadiums often prove to be financial black holes instead of economic drivers.

The Atlantic reports that, "according to leading sports economists, stadiums and arenas rarely bring about the promised prosperity, and instead leave cities and states mired in debt that they can't pay back before the franchise comes calling for more."

Considering the odds, Parkview Field's success at attracting new businesses and residents to downtown Fort Wayne is both surprising and difficult to deny.

Leatherman cites the development of nearby Cityscape Flats apartments, the AshSkyline Plaza, the revitalization of The Landing, and even a renewed interest in restoring historic homes in West Central, as ripple effects of the baseball stadium's success.

According to Kirk Moriarty, Greater Fort Wayne’s Director of Business Development, Allen County has a whole has more attracted more development, as evidenced by data from the Allen County Building Department.

This data shows the county has issued more than $1 billion in commercial and residential permits since the baseball stadium opened.

Then there are the testimonies.

Tim Ash, CEO of Ash Brokerage, was among the local residents against Parkview Field and downtown development before the stadium opened.

Seeing its success over the years, he has experienced a change of heart to the extent that he invested $29 million in building a new downtown corporate headquarters for Ash Brokerage in 2016 to be part of the action.

"I can say without hesitation, the Ash Skyline Plaza development and the corresponding move of our national headquarters to downtown, would not have happened had it not been for the Parkview Field/Harrison development," Ash says.

So what makes the TinCaps stadium an economic driver in Fort Wayne when efforts to revitalize cities with sports stadiums have failed elsewhere?

City leaders may guess at the reasons, but one thing is for sure: It has re-invigorated civic pride, says TinCaps President Mike Nutter.

Prior to the new stadium, he explains that Fort Wayne residents didn’t have the same confidence in their city as they do now.

“They no longer talk about what we don’t have, but what we have," Nutter says.

Now, Parkview Field is putting Fort Wayne on the radar of city leaders in places, like Boise, Idaho, where developers are hoping to recreate its success in stadiums of their own.

Nutter says the Summit City has inspired a so-called "friendly competition" among minor league teams, encouraging everyone to step up their game in terms of offering a more robust experience.

“Now, 10 years later, some teams have used (Parkview Field) as a template for improving their ballparks,” Nutter says. “People are noticing what we’re doing.”

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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