The Herald Bulletin

June 5, 2012

Architect would like to turn Wigwam into convention center

City could fund $10,000 feasibility study

By Melanie D. Hayes
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — A local architect is pursuing options for the shuttered Wigwam gymnasium, including using it as a convention center, and has asked the city to help fund a $10,000 feasibility study.

On Tuesday, Jesse J. Wilkerson, who owns an Anderson architecture and design firm, gave a presentation to the Anderson Redevelopment Commission about some of the ideas he has for the historic facility.

The four commission members present expressed a desire to see the facility be put to use once again, and endorsed the study.

Wilkerson said he believes that the 50-year-old complex could be turned into a convention center, offering concerts, events, classes and more.

The Wigwam is “something that can be a healing thing for the community and create blood flow in the community,” he said.

The former 9,000-seat Anderson High School gym has been closed since last summer, after the school board voted to close it in March 2011 following weeks of public debate.

Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Felix Chow recommended the closing, because it would save the school system $550,000 in personnel and utility costs. The school district continues to own the property.

“The school district has not cut a deal with the city, and the city has not sought a deal with the school district,” said Greg Winkler, the city’s interim economic development director.

Wilkerson’s presentation was a way of informing the Redevelopment Commission of what he is pursuing and to keep the commission in the loop about the study and its cost, Winkler said.

Wilkerson said he is in talks with companies that have told him they would like to be a part of the project. A current NBA player, who Wilkerson did not name, is among the parties interested in using the facility.

Wilkerson said that if the plan works out and private entities bring the old gym back to life, the city could help out by doing yard maintenance and snow removal.

Wilkerson said he would like to perform a study of the facility to assess its structure, space, uses and how improvements could be done in a financially feasible way. Part of the study would include how the facility could be retrofitted to bring down utility costs, such as with alternative energy and lighting options, Wilkerson said.

The study will cost about $10,000 and he is asking the city to foot the bill.

Winkler said the study could be funded with food and beverage tax dollars, which are used for economic development purposes.

The commission said it was in support of the city funding the study and hopes that the Wigwam will open up again and be put to good use. President Kevin Sulc was not in attendance.

Commission member Justin Pucket said he loves the Wigwam and would love to see it be used again, but would like to learn about options, costs and plans.

“In my opinion, I think most taxpayers would like to see something done,” Puckett said.

Mike Farmer, another member, said he looks forward to seeing renderings and exhibits of what Wilkerson’s proposal could entail.

Winkler said that Wilkerson will have to submit a proposal to the Board of Public Works, who will have the final say on whether a contract will be drafted to provide Wilkerson with the $10,000.

Board of Public Works member Bob Schuler said that it’s important to work together to salvage a building that is so important to Anderson’s history. He said that people at the meeting should spread a message of support for the Wigwam and Wilkerson’s pursuit to reopen it.

“I and several people here feel that we can do something with the facility that will bring recognition to the city,” Schuler said at the meeting.

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