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.
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.