World Baseball Academy on deck for $1.6 million in Legacy

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne Councilman Tom Didier (R-3rd District) will introduce an ordinance next week that could give $1.6 million to the Fort Wayne World Baseball Academy. The money would come from the Legacy fund, and would help the WBA renovate and eventually build baseball fields.

Didier spoke with NewsChannel 15 Wednesday afternoon about his decision. The ordinance is co-sponsored by Councilman Geoff Paddock (D-5th District), who represents the WBA’s district.

“It’s going to be a business we’re talking about here,” Didier said. “This is going to bring revenue into the city. That’s a productive thing we need to have happen here.”

The proposed ordinance calls for the WBA to make a 3-to-1 match to get the funds. The WBA would need to raise approximately $2.4 million to get $800,000 from Legacy to fund the first phase of the project and then raise another $2.5 million to receive a second installment of $800,000 for phase two of the project.

So far, the WBA has collected approximately $700,000 in gifts and donations for the work. “I think the Legacy investment will be a great incentive for donors to contribute to the project because they know we are far along in getting it funded,” said Linda Buskirk, the WBA’s Director of Development, who was thrilled to hear of the announcement.

Phase one of the WBA’s project is for $3.2 million to be spent to renovate three youth baseball fields. Phase two is a $3.3 million project that would construct a collegiate-sized baseball field. According to Buskirk, the college field would very likely become the home for the University of Saint Francis’ baseball team.

“Youth sports aren’t only important to me, but to an immense about of adults who are out there who are going through the same exercise,” Didier said, who first got involved with the WBA when he was appointed to the Legacy Champion Team. “You’re also gaining the revenues from all the people who are coming into town, using the hotels and the restaurants. We’re going to utilize this Legacy money, but they’re going to give us much, much more.”

The councilman added that there are several examples of how sports generate revenue to the city’s economy.  His examples included the Spiece Fieldhouse, the SportONE/Parkview Icehouse, and the SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse.

“We are very thankful for Councilman Didier and Councilman Paddock for taking this forward,” said Buskirk, who hopes to see the work complete in 2016. “We feel we’ve gotten good responses from many members of council, so we hope that holds true as they continue the discussion of the proposal now that they’ll see it.”

The news comes at the same time that council is reviewing a resolution to form a seven-member committee that would be responsible for finding projects that could be good suitors of Legacy dollars. The WBA’s project could easily be the last one before the committee is formed.

“The reason we’re doing this now is this has been in the forefront for a long time,” Didier said. “The WBA has gone through a lot of this process that it already needed to go through. It just needed to be fine-tuned. Now with a 3-to-1 match, it’s better for the City of Fort Wayne because we won’t be utilizing as much of the Legacy dollars.”

Legacy funds, according to the City of Fort Wayne’s website are a combination of two sources: the City Light Lease Settlement reached between the City of Fort Wayne and Indiana Michigan Power; and the Fort Wayne Community Trust, established by the City over 30 years ago using a portion of the annual Light Lease payments. The funds are designed to provide catalytic investment, leverage additional resources, and directly benefit residents of Fort Wayne.

“I think Councilman Didier and I felt it was important for us to move forward right now,” Paddock said. “The economic impact can not be overstated. We’re looking at something right now that draws in over a million dollars a year with the facility they have.  We’re not talking about only improving that facility but enlarging it substantially.”

Leaders at the WBA have estimated that if their project could bring an additional $21.4 million to the local economy over a ten year span.

Council is set to introduce Didier’s ordinance on Tuesday.  It could face a final vote  in late September.

“This is exciting news for Fort Wayne,” Buskirk said. “We’re going to have an opportunity to for public debate and look at our proposal for a premier-youth baseball park for Fort Wayne. It’s great news that we have community leaders who care about kids and also care about the economy.”

Buskirk and other leaders with the WBA have spent more than two years working with city leaders, in hopes of using Legacy money to help fund this project.  Didier was appointed to a youth sports Legacy Champions Team in 2012.  That group said back then it thought the WBA would be a good organization to receive Legacy money.

To get final approval, Legacy projects need approval by at least six council members and Mayor Tom Henry.

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