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. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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