On September 16th Mayor Bob Hall attended the grand opening VIP tour of the Game On facility in Westfield, Indiana. Game On is a “world-class esports and educational concept whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire” with its “80 state-of-the-art, high-speed computers” that allow it “to host esports leagues, tournaments and individuals.” The Mayor posted a video of the grand opening and tagged it “Coming to Charlestown soon.” Response to the video was instant. Many folks expressed their excitement over such a facility, some folks expressed their reservations.
My initial comment on the thread was:
“Looks like an exciting facility for the right location. I was under the impression we are in the “study” phase. You make it sound like this is a done deal. Are we sure such a facility and the burden to tax payers will be worth the risk for Charlestown? I’d like to see city leaders slow down a little and think very carefully about this type of project while seeking feedback from those of us who live in Charlestown, not just the firm that makes the promises.”
On August 22, the City Council agreed to pay Klipsch-Card, the developer of the Fieldhouse at Grand Park, $60,000 to perform a feasibility study for Charlestown. Prior to the vote, Andy Card and Mike Klipsch offered their sales pitch and named the Fieldhouse as an example of their work that could be mirrored in Charlestown. They also mentioned the soon-to-come sports complex they are developing in conjunction with Noblesville, Indiana.
Klipsch-Card is good at what they do. The sports complexes they build are indeed impressive. But not everyone is as eager as the Mayor and Council to see them in Charlestown. What troubles some people is not new business growth. Let me remove that argument from the table. Folks who are concerned about this facility are NOT against growth and change.
What they worry about is a lack of transparency and what appears to be excessive and wasteful spending of city resources.
I entered the Facebook conversation about the Game On facility at the Fieldhouse on September 16th because I want more information. When Mr. Klipsch and Mr. Card made their presentation to the council in August, no “tough” questions were asked. Instead, several city representatives talked about how they, too, had visited the site and found it impressive and worth an investment. Every effort I have made to get more details from people in Charlestown has been answered with something akin to:
“Well I’ve been there and it’s great!”
“If you went you’d see too!”
“You can’t be against it if you haven’t seen it.”
And they had a point. I had not seen it. The only financial numbers I had about Grand Park came from a news article published in June 2016. So, since no one in town could update those numbers for me or provide substantive information, I arranged a visit to Westfield myself.
On Tuesday, September 26, I went to Westfield to see Grand Park and the Fieldhouse for myself. My meeting was not an impromptu affair. I had arranged a meeting with Mayor Andy Cook and had been promised a tour of the Fieldhouse and Game On facility by Rick Barretto and Andy Cook. Here are the results of my meetings:
- Andy Cook is a mayor who knows how to welcome people to his town. He was warm, kind, open, and did not dodge any of my questions about Grand Park. What is most important is that Grand Park and the Fieldhouse at Grand Park are two separate entities. The city of Westfield built and funded Grand Park by themselves, with no private partnerships. The park was the brain child of a committee of city representatives and citizen volunteers. It was never intended to generate a profit and it operates in a revenue-neutral status. Currently the funds used to build the park are paid by income tax revenue but, since the park is in a TIF district, as new buildings arrive, the TIF money will take over that repayment (by 2021). Mayor Cook admitted it was a major project and that it will not work in every city, but said that every city has something unique they can offer to folks, they just have to determine what that is. Since the city built the park, they do not have to provide tax deductions or incentives to private developers who come on board…enter Klipsch-Card. (See Grand Park here: http://grandpark.org)
- The Fieldhouse was built on private land adjacent to Grand Park and operates on its own budget. (See the Fieldhouse here: https://grandparkfh.com) The city does not manage the Fieldhouse and Game On. Since it is a private development, the facility pays taxes to the city.
I cannot give you more information about the Fieldhouse because I was stood up by Andy Card and Rick Berretto. When I entered the building at 4:15 on that Tuesday, there were 12 cars in the parking lot and nobody playing in the building. There was no receptionist or greeter so I walked around the basketball facility looking for Mr. Card who was supposed to lead my tour. When I couldn’t find anyone I went into the Game On room. The room was empty except for two children playing on computers in the back. A staff member approached me and asked my name. I told him, and explained that I had a tour scheduled. He said that was not possible because the facility was closed for repairs, the room was dangerous because of loose wires, and I should leave. When my husband (who went along as well) pointed out the two children playing games, the staff member explained that they were the “owner’s children” and he was babysitting them. I asked for Rick’s phone number and was told again I had to leave.
And so I did. And on my way out I noted that I was there during standard business hours and there was no note of closure on the door.
And there you have it. I admit I don’t have all the information about the Fieldhouse at Grand Park. And this is precisely what should worry us in Charlestown. From what I’ve been able to determine, the only people who DO have all the information are the people selling the product.
In a few weeks Klipsch-Card will submit their proposal to the City. The City then needs to make this proposal in its entirety available to the people of Charlestown. We need to be informed and we need to have a voice in this investment. Is it right for us? It’s hard to tell when details are hidden under a shroud of secrecy. In the mean time, if you have any questions about my trip feel free to ask me!
 Mary Rachel Redman, “’Game On’ at Grand Park,” in Inside Indiana Business, September 18, 2017, http://www.insideindianabusiness.com/story/36394565/game-on-at-grand-park.