When Parkview Field was first built, I remember thinking we didn’t need it.
I liked attending Wizards games at the old Coliseum stadium, and whenever I did, it wasn’t even full.
There’s no way a new stadium is going to work, I thought.
But it did, and if it happened with Parkview Field, it can happen again.
That’s the argument a lot of people use to promote new projects downtown.
The city’s unexpected, incredible success with Parkview Field has made it a poster child for community development, and when people mention it, I usually sort of nod along.
I like downtown, and I want to see it keep growing in bold, controversial ways.
But for one project on the city’s list, the comparison to Parkview Field is more than just wishful thinking; it holds a real chance at coming true.
The new arena (slated for the block of Jefferson, Ewing, Washington and Webster) is set to be the next Parkview Field—a place for large, indoor activities and home of the Mad Ants basketball team.
It’s one of the first among five key projects Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is raising support for with plans to grow our local economy and attract new talent to the region.
Part of the arena’s appeal is that it’s about more than sports, said Eric Doden of GFW Inc. Think of it as a multipurpose entertainment center about half the size of the Coliseum and twice the size of the Embassy Theatre.
In the same way that Parkview Field hosts farmers markets, concerts and community events, the new arena will host more than the Mad Ants. News reports say that it could host concerts and conventions as well as rodeos and boxing (for all those closet bull-riding, heavyweight champs out there).
But in all seriousness, the arena would be strategically next to the Grand Wayne Center to provide additional conference space, and the ground floor would be used for restaurants and retail stores year-round like the Ash Brokerage building.
If the arena gets the support it needs to move forward, the local King Gyros, Rally’s and the city’s best Taco Bell will sadly be displaced. But it’s promising to think that an underutilized part of downtown could be turned into a center of activity like Parkview Field. And while we’re drawing the comparison, it’s important to note that the new arena is getting its fair share of criticism like Parkview Field, too.
A Facebook group called “Stop Fort Wayne Downtown Arena” has been started and received more than 1,100 likes.
But while I jumped on the bandwagon against Parkview Field back in the day, I’m reserving my judgment on the arena for now.
After all, it’s important to note that part of Parkview Field’s success isn’t something facts or figures could have predicted before it happened.
There are a few intangible and human elements of the equation that make it special—things those planning the new arena should take to heart.
- 1. Embrace the benefits of being downtown.
Parkview Field has made itself a part of downtown culture by opening its doors to walkers during the day and making its games a staple on the menu of local events.
It also seems to have a sense of what makes people love being downtown in the first place. It’s all about the community, the hype, the activity and the local spirit.
Embracing this culture has helped the city take ownership of the TinCaps in a way that didn’t happen when they were out at the Coliseum, and if the Mad Ants can adjust to downtown, too, the arena could experience similar success.
After all, Indiana is a basketball state, and I would personally go to more Mad Ants games if they were downtown simply because I like being there.
Cater to the people who already love downtown, and you’ve got yourself an audience to start with.
But it’s all about keeping them coming back, which brings me to my next point….
- 2. Build an exciting culture.
One of the things that makes Parkview Field so special is the culture the TinCaps staff has created. When you go to games, it’s like stepping into a Fort Wayne Disney World. The atmosphere at the ballpark is just different—happier, active, goofy, carefree. It makes TinCaps games the type of place you want to be, even if you don’t like baseball. The employees joke with you at the ticket booth. The entertainment on the field is interesting, and who could forget the Bad Apple Dancers?
As the arena begins to take shape, city leaders should remember that good culture isn’t boiling in a pot somewhere behind closed doors that only marketing executives can access. It’s what’s comes out of a community naturally when the right factors are put in place: the right leadership to guide with an open mind, the right activities to keep people coming back for more, and the right staff to keep coming up with awesome ideas.
Which brings me to my last point….
When it comes to community entertainment, staffing is probably the most important decision you can make.
Most of the great things that happen at Parkview Field wouldn’t be half as enjoyable without the hardworking, fun-loving people behind the scenes to make them happen. The TinCaps staff seems to have that rare sort of synergy that just works. I don’t really know how it works, but it does, and the people there seem genuinely happy about what they do.
If the team planning the arena can take notes from the team at Parkview field, it really could be the next success story.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a frequent blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org