It’s not dead yet.
The Fort Wayne Wizards will play their last scheduled game today at Memorial Stadium. But the stadium will be used for other events next spring and remain open as a backup in case unforeseen problems delay the opening of the new minor league baseball park at Harrison Square.
Still, tonight’s 7 p.m. game against the South Bend Silver Hawks will seem like more of the valedictory event for the stadium, which has served the community well and brought great benefits, despite its short life.
A final decision to demolish the stadium has yet to be officially made but is inevitable. Consultants estimated that keeping the stadium open would cost the Memorial Coliseum’s budget $300,000 to $500,000 per year. And just as important, keeping the stadium open for baseball and other events could end up diminishing business for the downtown ballpark.
“Worst-case scenario, you could end up with two underperforming baseball stadiums,” said Randy Brown, the Coliseum’s general manager.
Though Harrison Square opponents lament the demise of the relatively young stadium, it was well worth the $6.2 million cost. The stadium brought professional baseball to the city, and the value of the team has grown since its debut season in 1993. Granted, the estimated demolition costs of $2 million add to the cost, but the Coliseum will gain about 800 parking spots, which will generate revenue. And if it remained open, the stadium would soon be due for expensive renovation.
Some advocates for downtown development had hoped Memorial Stadium would have been built downtown in the early 1990s. But the short time between the chance to snare the Single-A franchise, then located in Kenosha, Wis., called for extremely quick decisions and action, requiring land ready for development immediately.
Indeed, the one-year turnaround time from the opportunity to lure the team to the stadium’s opening remains a remarkable achievement.
The Wizards offices will remain in the Memorial Stadium through the winter. The stadium will be the site of high school and college baseball games next spring. At least one additional event – a monster truck show – is scheduled, though the date isn’t firm. And with less concern about field conditions, concerts and other events could be scheduled.
Unless something horrible goes wrong with the Harrison Square park, Memorial Stadium will most likely close by July 1, 2009, in order to complete demolition and pave the new lot before asphalt plants shut down for the winter.
The community will say farewell to the stadium sometime next year, but its main purpose – home for professional baseball – comes to a likely end tonight, only to be replaced next year with a bigger and better ballpark that will help invigorate downtown.