Baseball in your backyard: The Terre Haute Rex face the Cape Catfish on Thursday at Indiana State University’s Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium. 
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Baseball in your backyard: The Terre Haute Rex face the Cape Catfish on Thursday at Indiana State University’s Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Terre Haute families, young ballplayers, adults competing in lifelong sports often travel to other cities for tournaments at multi-purpose facilities. Those towns — many less populous than Terre Haute — get the economic benefit from those visitors spending money in their communities for food, fuel, lodging and other needs.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett is anxious to find out if a multi-sports complex would be feasible here and supported by the community. It would include a 3,000-seat baseball stadium that could accommodate the Terre Haute Rex summer collegiate- level club and local high school teams, and be paired with an adjacent waterpark.

“People in Terre Haute travel all over [to similar facilities elsewhere], and people don’t come to Terre Haute for that, because we don’t have that,” Bennett said Thursday.

“We believe the community needs an all-inclusive complex, a facility in one place,” he added. The first step for such a project materialized last month.

The Wabash River Regional Development Authority (or RDA) approved a $50,000 grant for a study to determine the feasibility of a multi-sports complex in Terre Haute. The grant was one of 23 approved by the local RDA, which organizes quality- of-life projects for the region that includes Vigo, Clay, Parke, Vermillion, Sullivan and Knox counties.

The Wabash Valley RDA received $20 million to fund portions of those projects from the state of Indiana’s $500-million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (or READI) program. The state’s allocation of funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 fueled this year’s READI grants. A consultant will study the feasibility of a Terre Haute multi-sports complex during the next few months. “I would say, by the first of [next] year, we would have some sort of idea of where we’re going with this,” Bennett said.

The mayor quickly emphasized its size would be modest. “I try to tell people, we’re not trying to create another Grand Park,” he said, referring to the heavily attended, 400-acre youth sports complex in fast-growing Westfield.

That facility in affluent Hamilton County was built with $49 million in public funds and opened in 2014.

The 400-acre park includes 31 multi-purpose fields, 26 diamonds, and a 377,000-square-foot events center with three synthetic-turf fields.

By contrast, the multisports facility under consideration in Terre Haute would cover about 100 acres and include four baseball fields, four softball fields, a baseball stadium and an adjacent waterpark, the mayor said. Bennett envisions the park being overseen by the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board.

The facility could be supported by funds from the county’s food and beverage tax, he explained. Once the new Downtown Convention Center begins turning a profit, which Bennett anticipates happening in the next five years, “there is going to be additional revenue coming in that we can put toward the next big project” — the multi-sports complex.

Bennett hopes to pursue funding for the construction of the multi-sports complex from a possible new round of state READI grants in 2023 and tax revenue from the Churchill Downs Queen of Terre Haute Casino and Resort, which is under construction on the city’s east side. The complex could eventually expand to include spaces for other sports such as soccer, football, tennis and pickleball, as well as parking and entry ways. Though no location has been determined, Bennett speculated that the city’s east side has the most open space for a 100-acre facility, plus easy access from Interstate 70.

A project including a baseball stadium for the Rex and local high schools also would involve private investment. “The Rex have had ideas for years about having their own stadium,” Bennett said.

In fact, the concept of a stadium as part of a multisports complex has been on Rex owner and general manager Bruce Rosselli’s mind for seven years. He has an artist’s rendering for such a facility, and envisions it to include a variety of sports, such as volleyball, ice skating, basketball and adult activities such as walking paths.

As for the baseball stadium element, Rosselli and Bennett both emphasized the Rex’s current home — Indiana State University’s 2,500-seat Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium — well serves the needs of the club, which competes in the summer collegiate-level Prospect League. “We love being at Indiana State,” Rosselli said. “That’s not an issue.”

But a separate Rex stadium would allow features like roofed seating and party decks, amenities that could inspire increased attendance. The stadium would also allow high school teams to play there, as well as serving as a championship-game site for touring travel teams that would play tournaments at the multi-sports complex.

Solid crowds are possible here, both Rosselli and Bennett said. Though the Rex had some smaller crowds last month, July typically brings a boost in ticket purchases and the team drew 800-plus fans for a game this week, Rosselli said. The Rex currently have a sound 20-11 overall record, so there’s plenty of reasons for a county of 107,000 people to turn out for a winning club’s relatively inexpensive games. Rosselli has studied the possibilities for a multisports complex and new stadium, and understands the stadium funding would require a significant private investment. “It’s not going to be a small task,” but he’s confident it would succeed.

In years ahead, Bennett believes the city could support a professional minor league club, which Terre Haute had from the late 19th century until 1956.

“I would love to see that,” Bennett said of Terre Haute’s club becoming a Class A big-league farm team. “That’s where I would love to see this go — create an environment that’s conducive to that set up.”

In the meantime, he sees the creation of a multisports and waterpark complex as doable for the community. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said. “There’s a lot of communities that do this.”

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