Two days before the second Major League Baseball game at the Field of Dreams filming location, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday granted Dyersville’s request for another round of public funding to build a permanent stadium at the site.
Reynolds announced in a news release that she will allocate $12.5 million to This is Iowa Ballpark, a nonprofit that is building the stadium. Along with local funds and an award from a federal agency, the latest grant provides $45 million in public money for the $50 million project.
A spokesperson for This is Iowa Ballpark said in a statement Tuesday that the latest round of public funding will help the organization secure additional private money for the development. Reynolds’ award came after members of the Iowa Economic Development Authority evaluated the nonprofit’s application.
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“We appreciate IDEA’s confidence that the permanent, multi-use stadium project is a transgenerational, once in a lifetime opportunity to significantly enhance tourism and economic development regionally and statewide,” the spokesperson for the ballpark group said.
A feasibility study funded by Travel Dubuque projected the site will draw 136,000 visitors a year, create 81 jobs, host 62 events and generate $9.1 million in investment in the first year after the stadium is built.
Dyersville City Administrator Mick Michel previously told the Des Moines Register that the project was worth public investment because it would generate spending on hotels, shops and restaurants.
“It’s a great project for this area,” Michel said in late July. “It’s a great project for Dyersville, Dubuque County, also the region and the state of Iowa.”
Stadium money comes from federal coronavirus relief fund
Reynolds’ $12.5 million allocation comes from Destination Iowa, a $100 million grant program for projects that are supposed to raise the state’s profile and encourage tourism. The governor created the program using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a March 2021 congressional coronavirus relief bill that channeled billion in funding to state and local governments, including $4.5 billion for Iowa.
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Reynolds previously allocated $11 million from the fund to build water and sewer lines to the Field of Dreams site. The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded another $1.5 million for the same purpose in September.
Locally, Dubuque County has agreed to give $5 million to the stadium project. The city of Dubuque awarded $1 million. Travel Dubuque, a nonprofit largely funded with hotel-motel taxes, gave the stadium $500,000.
In Dyersville, the City Council contributed $1 million. Between two tax breaks for private developers — one already awarded and another in negotiation — the city is poised to contribute another $13 million to the project, Michel said.
Experts skeptical about public spending for stadium
Some economic development experts the Register interviewed for an article earlier this month expressed skepticism about the project achieving the level of economic benefit outlined in the feasibility study.
Corporate events and banquets will make up about one-third of the events at the stadium, according to the feasibility study. But with the property 30 minutes from Dubuque and an hour from Cedar Rapids, the project will struggle to lure those users, said JC Bradbury, an economist at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University who researches sports and public investment. He said he envisions a similar challenge for the concerts and festivals the study projects the stadium will host.
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Nathan Jensen, a University of Texas at Austin professor who researches government economic development strategies, said the stadium is too dependent on Major League Baseball. The feasibility study projects about two-thirds of stadium’s economic impact will come from an annual Field of Dreams game.
However, the league has not guaranteed a game beyond Thursday, when the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs will play. Even if the game continues after this year, Jensen said, allocating the money for public education, houses or roads would have a longer-term impact on the local economy.
“You act like it’s free money,” he said. “But what could we have done with $44 million that would have had high impact?”
Dubuque Mayor Brad Cavanagh, who supports the investment, said the stadium’s benefits will be more than economic, becoming a source of pride for the state. Last year’s Field of Dreams game, which he described as “an informercial for Iowa,” drew more viewers than any regular-season MLB matchup since 2005.
“We’ve got to find a way to draw people in and show them why we’re so proud to live here,” he said. “And the Field of Dreams does that.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds previously allocated funds for Field of Dreams TV series
The stadium is the second project tied to the 1989 film to receive funding from Reynolds. She allocated $6 million in Destination Iowa funds to NBCUniversal, which is trying to produce a limited TV series adaptation of the film. Producers are shopping the project after Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform, turned it down.
Jensen criticized spending public funds for that project, as well, saying tax credits for films don’t create a lasting impact for communities. Most of the money for a project goes to directors and actors flying in from California, he said.
“What’s the opposite of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup?” he said, of public funds for a stadium and a TV show. “Two terrible things, put together.”
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This is Iowa Ballpark is controlled by a board with representatives from Dubuque County, Travel Dubuque, the city of Dubuque, the city of Dyersville and Go the Distance, a private development group led by Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.
Go the Distance announced in April that it will spend $80 million to build extra baseball and softball fields next to the future stadium, a hotel and other amenities to attract youth tournaments. A spokesperson for the group said the movie site attracted 37 teams from 23 states for games this summer.
“They will come in even greater numbers once we have the improved infrastructure, facilities, and amenities completed in phases over several years, making the Field of Dreams Movie Site a world-class destination,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
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The stadium project is the largest to receive funding through Destination Iowa since Reynolds began announcing awards in June. She has now allocated $37.2 million for 10 projects, leaving about $62.8 million still in the fund.
As of July 6, the state had received 71 requests for $152 million. Of the outstanding requests in the Des Moines metro, the biggest-ticket development is the Iowa Confluence Water Trails project, that has requested $10 million.
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at email@example.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.