Huge rugby complex planned for former drive-in theater

January 15, 2013
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A long-vacant drive-in theater just east of Fountain Square soon could be home to the nation’s largest rugby facility.

The Indiana Youth Rugby Foundation has raised $1.2 million for the ambitious project and is seeking another $500,000 to break ground this spring.

Citizens Energy Group last year agreed to hand over the 26-acre parcel next to a former coke plant along Keystone Avenue if Indiana Youth Rugby can line up funding.

The $4.7 million proposal includes five 100-yard-by-70-yard fields—which also could be used for soccer—plus a two-story, 18,000-square-foot community center that would feature banquet areas, a kitchen, two conference rooms and a classroom, a large outdoor deck area, and locker rooms with shower facilities.

(Full story is here. Renderings are on Property Lines.)

Plans also call for a splash park, playground, 1.1-mile exercise trail with workout stations, open-air shelters, and a rain garden educational site.

The facility—dubbed The Indianapolis National Rugby Park—will take the entire space formerly occupied by the Twin Aire Drive-In, which closed 17 years ago.

It’s not the first time a sports complex has been suggested for the site.

In 2010, local not-for-profit Play Ball Indiana proposed a $6 million lighted baseball facility that would host youth and adult baseball and softball leagues and tournaments. It was touted as a key component to revitalizing the area, which is a mix of industrial and residential.

But those plans were scuttled a year later when Play Ball Indiana couldn’t raise enough funds.

Indiana Sports Corp. CEO Allison Melangton is optimistic the rugby project will fly.

“I’m incredibly impressed with their organization and their grass-roots effort to gain support for this project,” she said. “They are reaching out to schools and other youth organizations, and I think that will be key to their success. They have good people behind this project.”

Local attorney Jon Anderson is leading the fundraising efforts. Kohl’s department stores and Kona Jack’s restaurant have been lined up as sponsors, and project leaders have “several important meeting in terms of fundraising in the next few weeks,” Indiana Youth Rugby Executive Director Michelle Leroux said.

If Indiana Youth Rugby is successful, the local operation would be nearly twice as large as the country’s next-biggest facility dedicated to rugby, said officials for USA Rugby, the Colorado-based national sanctioning body for the sport.

Though USA Rugby has no plans to support the project financially, Weaver said the organization has pledged to hold some of the group’s biggest events at the local site.

“We think this facility would be a big economic boon for that area,” said Kurt Weaver, USA Rugby youth development director.

Not everyone is convinced.

Rachel Cooper, a longtime area resident and president of the Southeast Community Organization, thinks something should be built on the drive-in site that would be more useful to community residents—not merely a draw for outsiders.

“There are no recreational facilities out here for our kids, and our kids don’t know what rugby is,” said Cooper, who lives across the street from property. “I agree a development on that site would be a big and needed economic boost for this area. I’m just not convinced this is the right project.”

Locally, Indiana Youth Rugby has 1,800 member players and 200 coaches and has been growing at a 16-percent annual clip. The state has 75 teams stretching from South Bend to Bloomington, with 60 percent of those in central Indiana, Leroux said.

Citizens purchased the property on Keystone north of Prospect Street to create a buffer between its 101-year-old coke plant and nearby residential areas. When the utility closed the plant in 2007, company officials began looking for ways to redevelop both sites.

  • Idiocy
    As a long-time resident of the area, I can honestly say that any development is GOOD development. Rachel Cooper doesn't know up from down and does not live across the street from the proposed development. This woman needs to shut her trap and be happy that someone is interested in developing in the shadow of what is one of the largest brownfields in the city.
  • this has got to be a joke?
    A sports complex on a toxic waste site? They are going to have to scrape the Twin Aire down to bedrock and the surround area soil just to get the contaminated dirt out of there.
    • Head Injuries?
      Rugby is as rough as football, without helmets or pads...I am not sure where this will go, but I am wondering if (given that the NFL is preparing to be sued by hundreds of former players over head trauma) expansion of Rugby, especially for kids, should be put on hold. Development of the site would certainly be a good thing though, provided they can allay the concerns about the hazards of recreational facilities on former brownfields, which would be substantial I would think.
      • living in the hood
        I live just just north of the former drive-in on Rural St. Are they going no further than the old drive-in sight? Will they be taking up the Twin-Aire shopping center, the old school property?
      • As a Rugby Player...
        I think this is a great idea! I play on Indy's Division II women's team, and I believe that this complex will bring, not only economic growth, but a much needed infusion of a sport other than basketball or football to Indy. This rugby complex will be great!
      • From a rugby standpoint..
        There could not be a better time for this to happen currently central indiana has 3 men's and 1 women's rugby team, as well as several local high schools teams. This sport, which will once again be an Olympic sport, is growing at a rapid rate and the development of a complex that could attract international attention can only benefit Indianapolis and further prove the states goals of being an athletic hot spot. Although rugby is still a relatively new sport to the United States, it is third globally falling just short of soccer and cricket. From the sounds of it, this complex is going to w funded completely by private donations and Indianapolis could generate potentially MILLIONS in tourism revenue. Could not be more excited to see the sport that I lie grow and to see Indianapolis once again prove that we are ahead of the curve in regards to sports facilities.
      • After playing for 5 years
        After playing rugby for 5 years, I know from personal experience the amount of rugby related injuries is far less than those from football. It is a great sport for kids and allows many more kids to participate. I would suggest you do some more research before making claims such as putting expansion on kids on hold.
      • its about time
        to say "our kids dont even know what rugby is" comes off as a little ignorant. i didnt know what it was and learned and became obsessed, as im sure many children in the fountain square area will also do. and though the focus is on rugby the fact is a rugby field can be used as many types of sports fields. excitement is an understatement for how the central indiana rugby community feels about this project
        • SECO Who?
          What's the Southeast Community Organization I found an out of date web page with some overpriced stuff for sale but that was it. I've been here in the Square for over a decade and I've never met Ms. Cooper nor have I heard of her involvement in any fundraising activity. Please stop and correct me if I'm out of line here, but bring on the rugby.
        • knowledge
          My kids sure know what soccer is. Same field, small difference. Youth league rugby is rather different than pro rugby to boot.
        • Head Injuries
          Jim, rugby is much safer than football in that regard, because the players do not attack other people with their heads because they believe they are "protected" by a helmet. Rugby players are taught to protect their heads in contact and tackle with their shoulders.
        • Consistent with our Sports Town Strategy
          Rugby? That would be cool.
          ...on Randall Porter's comment, just remember that the Zoo was started from a similar type site. It can be done.

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        Sponsored by
        1. How can any company that has the cash and other assets be allowed to simply foreclose and not pay the debt? Simon, pay the debt and sell the property yourself. Don't just stiff the bank with the loan and require them to find a buyer.

        2. If you only knew....

        3. The proposal is structured in such a way that a private company (who has competitors in the marketplace) has struck a deal to get "financing" through utility ratepayers via IPL. Competitors to BlueIndy are at disadvantage now. The story isn't "how green can we be" but how creative "financing" through captive ratepayers benefits a company whose proposal should sink or float in the competitive marketplace without customer funding. If it was a great idea there would be financing available. IBJ needs to be doing a story on the utility ratemaking piece of this (which is pretty complicated) but instead it suggests that folks are whining about paying for being green.

        4. The facts contained in your post make your position so much more credible than those based on sheer emotion. Thanks for enlightening us.

        5. Please consider a couple of economic realities: First, retail is more consolidated now than it was when malls like this were built. There used to be many department stores. Now, in essence, there is one--Macy's. Right off, you've eliminated the need for multiple anchor stores in malls. And in-line retailers have consolidated or folded or have stopped building new stores because so much of their business is now online. The Limited, for example, Next, malls are closing all over the country, even some of the former gems are now derelict.Times change. And finally, as the income level of any particular area declines, so do the retail offerings. Sad, but true.