Clock is ticking on Wigwam's future

March 26, 2014
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Anderson’s iconic Wigwam gymnasium could get a new lease on life—literally—if an investment group led by former Muncie Central High School basketball coach Terry Thimlar can score more than $1 million by early June.

Wigwam Sports and Entertainment LLC already lined up financial support from accredited investors in Indiana, Georgia and Texas, and Thimlar said momentum is building as the private placement approaches the halfway mark.

Wigwam anderson gym 15colThe Wigwam gymnasium needs about $115,000 in repairs to be usable. (IBJ Photo/Andrea Davis)

But organizers also are soliciting community support in the form of donations through crowdfunding site GoFundMe.com. The “Revitalize the Wigwam” campaign has raised about $200 in two months.

Thimlar, now an economics teacher at Cape Coral High School in Florida, nevertheless has high hopes for the 9,000-seat venue, the largest high school gym in the country when it was built in 1962. Anderson Community Schools closed the time-worn facility three years ago to save money.

This month, the school district agreed to extend its deadline to find a new owner for the gym and classroom space, sparing it from the wrecking ball—for now. School board members will revisit the issue at their June 10 meeting.

In the meantime, an outside group including Wigwam Sports and the city of Anderson is covering about $23,000 in utilities and other expenses.

City officials expect to solicit proposals from would-be users of the site early next month; responses will be due in mid-May. If Wigwam Sports or another entity presents a viable, financially sustainable plan for the property, the school district will transfer ownership.

“It will be a competitive process,” said Gary Winkler, Anderson’s economic development director.  

Still, Wigwam Sports has a head start. Formed in 2012, the group wants to see the venue host events ranging from roller derby to pro wrestling, conventions to concerts. And basketball, of course.

Thimlar has said he’d like the Wigwam to serve as home court for an NBA Development League team, something he knows something about after running a Florida D-League franchise for two years.

“That is something we would like to explore in more detail in the future,” he told IBJ.

The gym needs about $115,000 in repairs to be usable, he said.

The goal is to generate enough revenue from gym operations to fund upgrades in the rest of the shuttered high school, though officials are still figuring out how they want to use that space.

“Our major emphasis right now is to continue to bring more investors on board,” Thimlar said. “We’re working as diligently as we can.”

Among the early shareholders: gospel recording artist Bill Gaither and Turner Sports reporter Craig Sager.

The GoFundMe campaign has a $200,000 goal, but Thimlar doesn’t expect to come close. Rather, the crowdfunding initiative is an effort to engage the community in the project, he said.

“A lot of people have an interest in seeing the Wigwam saved,” he said. “This is a way for everyone to get involved.”

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  • Slow Death
    This is essentially a delay of the inevitable. Even if a group takes ownership of the building and uses it for some purpose there's no real market sustainability in Anderson to keep up with the maintenance of this now oversized facility. Like most of the properties owned by Anderson School Corporation it was built for the glory days of Anderson before they lost tens of thousands of jobs and their population tanked. Treat it like a band aid and rip it off Anderson, this slow march of decay won't help anyone.

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  1. I am not by any means judging whether this is a good or bad project. It's pretty simple, the developers are not showing a hardship or need for this economic incentive. It is a vacant field, the easiest for development, and the developer already has the money to invest $26 million for construction. If they can afford that, they can afford to pay property taxes just like the rest of the residents do. As well, an average of $15/hour is an absolute joke in terms of economic development. Get in high paying jobs and maybe there's a different story. But that's the problem with this ask, it is speculative and users are just not known.

  2. Shouldn't this be a museum

  3. I don't have a problem with higher taxes, since it is obvious that our city is not adequately funded. And Ballard doesn't want to admit it, but he has increased taxes indirectly by 1) selling assets and spending the money, 2) letting now private entities increase user fees which were previously capped, 3) by spending reserves, and 4) by heavy dependence on TIFs. At the end, these are all indirect tax increases since someone will eventually have to pay for them. It's mathematics. You put property tax caps ("tax cut"), but you don't cut expenditures (justifiably so), so you increase taxes indirectly.

  4. Marijuana is the safest natural drug grown. Addiction is never physical. Marijuana health benefits are far more reaching then synthesized drugs. Abbott, Lilly, and the thousands of others create poisons and label them as medication. There is no current manufactured drug on the market that does not pose immediate and long term threat to the human anatomy. Certainly the potency of marijuana has increased by hybrids and growing techniques. However, Alcohol has been proven to destroy more families, relationships, cause more deaths and injuries in addition to the damage done to the body. Many confrontations such as domestic violence and other crimes can be attributed to alcohol. The criminal activities and injustices that surround marijuana exists because it is illegal in much of the world. If legalized throughout the world you would see a dramatic decrease in such activities and a savings to many countries for legal prosecutions, incarceration etc in regards to marijuana. It indeed can create wealth for the government by collecting taxes, creating jobs, etc.... I personally do not partake. I do hope it is legalized throughout the world.

  5. Build the resevoir. If built this will provide jobs and a reason to visit Anderson. The city needs to do something to differentiate itself from other cities in the area. Kudos to people with vision that are backing this project.

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