By Ken de la Bastide
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The future of the Wigwam complex depends on funding by several local groups to pay utility and maintenance costs.
A private investment group is in the process of raising funds to reopen the storied high school gym and has received the endorsement of a Blue Ribbon Committee appointed by Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith.
Wigwam Sports and Entertainment LLC, through the leadership of Terry Thimlar, is raising funds to revitalize the Wigwam as a sports and entertainment venue.
The organization has launched a website to provide information to the community.
The group is facing a March 1 deadline set by the Anderson Community Schools board to develop a feasible plan to maintain and operate the facility or it could be demolished in the coming months.
School officials have estimated the cost to preserve the Wigwam at up to $5.5 million and an additional $4.1 million to reopen and bring the facility back to a usable condition.
Kevin Brown, business manager for ACS, said an appraisal done at the request of the Blue Ribbon Committee has determined the building has no value. He said the property is appraised at $191,000 if the building is demolished at a potential cost of $500,000.
“We will work with anyone on the building,” Brown said. “It has to be a responsible party that has the financial resources to operate and maintain the facility.”
Brown said that ACS would be willing to turn over ownership of the Wigwam complex at little or no cost if they have the financial backing and present a practical use for the facility.
He said the March 1 deadline could be extended by ACS, but only if other groups are willing to pay the utility, maintenance and insurance costs in the future.
Those costs are estimated at between $20,000 and $30,000 per month. Brown said the school system doesn’t want to continue funding those expenses.
City officials are hopeful that if a viable plan is put in place ACS will continue to pay a portion of those costs.
Greg Winkler, director of the Anderson Economic Development Department, believes if an interim plan is put in place by March that ACS would be willing to cover a portion of the costs for several months.
At the March meeting of the ACS board, Brown said a decision will be made to either extend the deadline or for the demolition option to move forward.
Winkler said a couple of ideas are being discussed by the Blue Ribbon Committee to make the Wigwam complex part of a development plan for the area from downtown Anderson to the Edgewood Plaza.
“The process could take a decade,” Winkler said. “It will benefit ACS, the surrounding neighborhood and downtown.”
Winkler said the concept presented by Wigwam Sports and Entertainment is the first step. He said other concepts include redevelopment of the asset for educational purposes.
The original concept included adult education classes and vocational education at the facility.
“The challenge is to help ACS to move the facility into private hands to allow for public use,” Winkler said. He said the group has to be willing to pay the basic utility costs, stabilize the building and retrofit the facility for sports uses.
That funding could be derived from the city of Anderson, the Anderson Redevelopment Commission, the Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Madison County Community Foundation.
Winkler said the city of Anderson and the Anderson Redevelopment Commission do not want to take ownership of the property, but could be a means to convey the property to a private developer.
Wigwam Sports and Entertainment has funds committed in the six-figure range, he said.
“My sense is that they (ACS) would lock in an offer from a reputable party for the maintenance and use of the facility at little or no cost,” Winkler said. “I believe enough things have happened that an opportunity is moving forward. It depends on whether or not Thimlar can raise the funds.”
Follow Ken de la Bastide on @kendelabastide on Twitter, or call 640-4863.