The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update


February 21, 2011

George Bremer: Wigwam must be reinvented

There are two facts about the Wigwam upon which we should all agree. First, there is no greater source of pride and publicity in the city of Anderson. Second, the complex has become a financial albatross from which the Anderson Community Schools board must escape.

The key now is finding a way to honor both.

Whichever way Tuesday’s vote goes, a third fact has become clear — the only way to save the old gym is to re-invent it.

My colleague Quintin Harlan has subscribed to the “use-it-or-lose-it” school of thought for years. He’s championed the idea that more events must take place in the Wigwam than Anderson boys basketball games.

I say that’s a good start.

Everyone’s focused on Superintendent Felix Chow’s proposal to close the complex. I’m more interested in the second half of that proposal — the elimination of 82 jobs, including 65 teachers.

It’s folly to put too much emphasis on a basketball gym at a time like this.

But critics who look at the old building as only a basketball gym are just as far off the mark.

Is there any other edifice in the city that can draw ink from the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times at the mere suggestion of its closing as the Wigwam did two years ago?

It’s not just a gym, it’s a time machine.

It’s a link to the past when Anderson’s economy was vibrant, high school basketball ruled and sold-out crowds filled the gym.

Those days are long gone, but the Wigwam can be a key to bringing some semblance of them back.

Another ignored portion of Chow’s proposal is a line about selling the Wigwam.

Imagine building a stand-alone complex anchored by an 8,500-seat arena, placing the financial responsibility on the high school and playing only its home boys basketball games there.

No one would agree to such a scenario today.

But that’s exactly the scenario that was created when Madison Heights closed and AHS took over its building. The Wigwam’s days of financial viability have been numbered.

But an independent entity, running the complex as a more inclusive entertainment venue, would stand a far greater chance of keeping the books in the black.

The model to follow is Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Renovations in 2002 added convention space around the arena, and it’s now host to a wide array of events including shows, conventions and tournaments.

High school basketball remains a part of the fabric of the Coliseum — the girls basketball state finals will be hosted there for the third consecutive time this year — but it’s far from the whole cloth.

A business willing to take the risk (Nestle, perhaps?) or a wealthy individual (here’s looking at you, Jim Irsay) could provide the financial foundation to start things moving in the right direction.

A healthy Wigwam, hosting events that draw out-of-town crowds, could be a rallying point for the city.

The Wigwam, so much a part of our past, still can be a vital part of our future.


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