By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The Wigwam gymnasium could become the home of an NBA development league if plans proceed from a former area basketball coach.
A plan has been presented by Terrry Thimlar, a former basketball coach at Muncie Central High School and former general manager and assistant coach of the Florida Flame, a now-defunct Fort Myers team in the NBA D-League.
On Wednesday, Anderson city officials announced the creation of a task force charged with resurrecting the iconic gym.
The city's Economic Development Department has formed what it has dubbed the Blue Ribbon Community Committee for the Rehabilitation and Reuse of the Wigwam.
A press release from the city outlined a plan for the historic arena, which has been vacant and without a tenant since 2011, to be used by an NBA Developmental League team. The plan was presented by Thimlar, currently a sporting event coordinator in Florida.
Part of the release reads: "Thimlar’s connections to and work with the NBA and its D-League teams brings some hope for an economically viable reuse of the Wigwam. Despite this opportunity, the time is short and challenges many. While Thimlar continues to promote his plan with Anderson community leaders, other leaders in Central Indiana and across the sporting world, time is running out as the ACS considers demolition of Wigwam in the near future."
On Wednesday, Thimlar said the building is too much of a community icon to be demolished. Thimlar's investment group is Wigwam Sports and Entertainment. He said he's received support from investors in Madison County, Indianapolis and Carmel. While the creation of a D-League team is something Thimlar hopes to materialize at some point, he said he's not putting the cart ahead of the horse.
"We have a plan for the Wigwam to be used in a lot of different ways," Thimlar said "One of the possibilities would be a D-League team, but it's much more than that. Right now our major focus is to bring it back to life and make it a viable entity."
Thimlar said he hopes for the gym to be used for trade shows, concerts, high school games and NBA exhibition games.
"We've done our homework. We have people invested in this concept we've developed, and we're going to get this thing across the finish line," Thimlar said.
Director of Economic Development Greg Winkler named Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder the chair of the committee, with Deputy Director of Economic Development Michael Frischkorn handling the vice chairman position.
Other members of the committee are Jeff Stoops, president of Stoops Freightliner; Anderson City Councilman Art Pepelea; Rob Loose of Loose Funeral Homes & Crematory; Jesse Wilkerson of Wilkerson and Associates; Dennis Ashley, marketing director of the Madison County Chamber; Tom Bannon, executive director of the Madison County Visitors and Convention Bureau; and Sally Devoe, executive director of the Madison County Community Foundation.
On Wednesday, Winkler said the Anderson Community Schools board has told the committee that if the Wigwam is not rehabilitated within the next year, it will be demolished. He said one of the biggest questions facing the committee will be the cost of any proposed rehabilitation project.
"That's the No. 1 question: Can you create an opportunity that will resurrect the gym and be economically viable. (The city) doesn't have the money to do it on its own. The school board doesn't either," Winkler said. "There are a host of costs involved, and depending on who you talk to, it could be a lot."
Winkler said there was some disparity between cost estimations made by Thimlar and the school board. He said the project would have to be a public-private partnership.
On Wednesday, Frischkorn said the committee has yet to meet and is in the very early stages of planning, but that they need to move rather quickly.
"I think it’s the great opportunity to resurrect an icon. I think it’s a great opportunity for community," Frischkorn said. "Hopefully in the next few months we'll be getting an idea of stakeholders in the community and how much it will cost. There's not a lot of clarity on the cost yet."
The D-League, which started in 2001, acts as the minor league system for the NBA and currently features 17 teams, including the Indiana Pacers-affiliated Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Former D-League players include NBA stars like Jeremy Lin and Danny Green and current Pacers Ian Mahinmi and C.J. Watson. It's unclear how or if the proposed new team would be affiliated with an NBA team. No one from the Pacers or Mad Ants could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
In July, The Herald Bulletin reported two break-ins at the Wigwam in the course of two weeks, prompting then-Superintendent Felix Chow to say the building was attracting vandalism. Anderson Fire Chief Phil Rogers called the gym a safety hazard, and said the original roof from when the gym opened in 1961 is weak and inclement weather could cave it in.
The Wigwam has featured professional basketball in the past. Most recently, the Indiana Alley Cats of the Continental Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association played in the gym in the 2006-2007 season.
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