Study will assess demand for large sports complex in Elkhart

Is there enough demand for establishment of a new recreational sports complex in Elkhart? The Elkhart County Convention and Visitor's Bureau may soon find out.
Posted on Feb. 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Could a large-scale recreational sports complex be a hit in Elkhart?

The Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau intends to find out when it initiates a feasibility study that will look at the demand for such a facility.

Mike Huber, destination and development manager of the Elkhart Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they are looking at the possibility of developing a large facility where the North Pointe shopping center currently sits.

The retail center has struggled in recent years and only has a handful of tenants.

Huber told the Elkhart Redevelopment Commission Tuesday, Feb. 12, that a sports complex could be a big boost to the cluster of nearby hotels and could benefit further from the proximity to the Indiana Toll Road – just a few blocks away.

Huber said they want to assess the demand for a broad range of uses that could serve both local recreational needs as well as travel leagues.

The complex could potentially be a combination of indoor and outdoor sports facilities.

He said they have no intentions of duplicating services that already exist, but added that several sports organizations in the area have become more aggressive in their scheduling and could likely benefit from a new facility.

Potentially, participants visiting for tournaments could stay at one of the hotels and walk to the sport complex. That type of scenario would be quite unique, he said.

“I haven’t seen any facilities like that and that might be a competitive advantage,” Huber said.

The redevelopment commission approved a request by Huber to provide up to $40,000 for a feasibility study.

The shopping center is owned by Equity Investment Group of Fort Wayne, and Huber said he has spoken with representatives of the firm about the idea.

If the feasibility study indicates support for the plan, Huber said they would eventually seek a private developer to take on the project.

In other matters, a representative of Indiana Landmarks said they believe the future of the Armory building on Main Street will likely depend on the cost of repairing some of the trusses.

The building was acquired by the city a few weeks ago in hopes of seeing the site redeveloped with or without the 100-year old two-story brick structure.

Todd Zeiger, director of Indiana Landmarks, said they are seeking estimates on the cost of repairing some of the trusses. Generally, the trusses are in good shape, but need some repairs on some of the ends that have been damaged by water.

“If we can address the structural questions and get it stable, the building certainly has the potential for a new purpose,” Zeiger said.

If those repair costs are considered to be reasonable, the redevelopment commission would seek requests from anyone interested in redeveloping the building. If that happens, Zeiger said they would hope to hear back from any interested parties by late April.

If the city can’t find a developer, city officials have said the building will be demolished.

The board also agreed to allow a local businessman to remove some old, potentially collectible items from the Armory as part of a preliminary clean-up of the building.

Eric Zell, who owns Elk River Upcycle, was given permission to remove items from the building that he thinks could be resold in his store.

The building was last used a few years ago as a liquor store, but contains remnants of its long history that date back decades.

Zell, an environmental engineer, has been involved in several demolition projects in recent years in Elkhart and his store features recycled items, most of which come from his own independent attempts at salvaging.

Zell agreed to donate 10 percent of any profits from the sale of the items back to the redevelopment commission.

Barkley Garrett, director of economic development for the city, said Zell’s efforts could help reduce the amount that will eventually be sent to a landfill as part of the city efforts to prepare it for a possible sale.

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