A hologram of the late Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” was among the highlights Thursday, Aug. 11, during Major League Baseball’s second annual “Field of Dreams” game.
However, fans of the contest that salutes the nostalgic baseball film could be waiting a couple of years to celebrate another seventh inning stretch at the iconic movie site in nearby Dyersville, Iowa.
Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Thomas, part of an ownership group with expansion plans building off the game’s successful reception, told reporters this week MLB is unlikely to host a baseball game at the “Field of Dreams” next season due to the impending construction.
The project includes adding a permanent facility to replace the temporary stadium constructed to host last season’s inaugural “Field of Dreams” game – as well as the nationally televised contest Thursday, Aug. 11, between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds – and the first minor league game at the famed film’s site two days earlier between the Quad Cities River Bandits and Cedar Rapids Kernels.
“This is Iowa Ballpark,” the nonprofit dedicated to building the $50 million multi-use stadium, received a $12.5 million boost Tuesday, Aug. 9, before the Bandits-Kernels game from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The federal funding from the state comes from a grant by Destination Iowa, which has awarded more than $37 million for tourism and economic development projects around Iowa so far this year. This week’s announcement marks the largest single grant by the $100 million program.
“It’s a very exciting development and so great that Frank (Thomas) is part of it,” said Karla Thompson, director of the Dyersville Chamber of Commerce. “It’s only going to bring more people and more development to the area.”
The governor agrees, previously allocating $11 million from the fund to build water and sewer lines to the stadium. Destination Iowa also granted $6 million to the unconnected development of an in-production “Field of Dreams” TV series adaptation to help expose a new generation of fans to the iconic story written by University of Iowa-educated author W.P. Kinsella.
Mr. Thomas and Chicago developer Rick Heidner also plan to expand the movie site tourist attraction with a complex of nine youth baseball/softball diamonds around the stadium – as well as the farmhouse, cornfield and simple baseball diamond that remain from the 1989 Oscar-nominated film.
The $80 million project also plans to add a hotel, amphitheater, event space and an RV park. Construction begins this fall and is expected to be completed by 2026.
Go The Distance Baseball, LLC — the group headed by Mr. Thomas — last year purchased a controlling interest in All-Star Ballpark Heaven and the 190 acres surrounding the movie site. Go The Distance is part of the nonprofit stadium’s board along with local government officials.
In July, the City of Dyersville approved $9.5 million in tax-increment financing for the complex.
“It’s great that Frank (Thomas) is so involved in the day-to-day developments, and he is willing to roll up his sleeves and put in the hard work. So, we are definitely impressed and willing to help him out with whatever he needs,” Ms. Thompson said.
“A lot of those kids that are targeted to play at those diamonds probably have never even seen the movie ‘Field of Dreams.’ So, it’s that younger generation that we’re contacting – and that’s a great new market for everyone to get exposed to the movie and movie site for future generations.”
Ms. Thompson said last year’s “Field of Dreams” MLB game had an estimated $6 million impact for the one-day event.
No estimates are available yet for this week’s games and associated festivities, but the figure will certainly increase, she said, with a capacity crowd of 8,000 fans attending both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s games.
“And that doesn’t even figure in all of the fans who didn’t have tickets to the game but visited for one of the many events,” Ms. Thompson said, pointing to the addition of a Beyond the Game fanfest that included concerts, a movie night, a town square viewing of Thursday’s game and two days worth of autograph sessions with baseball legends. There also was a youth baseball game and a charity softball game at the movie site.
“I know our businesses have definitely seen an increase in sales,” she added.
Dyersville is approximately 90 minutes north of the Quad Cities and an hour northeast of Cedar Rapids.
Both communities boast facilities to host youth baseball and softball events. But tourism leaders from both areas welcome the addition of the Dyersville development.
“The Field of Dreams expansion and project will definitely provide lift to Eastern Iowa and our tourism development,” said Dave Herrell, president and CEO, Visit Quad Cities.
“Our industry is a cottage industry with tight knit relationships. Yes, we are competitors but we all want to see the State of Iowa win so there are opportunities to collaborate, work with various rights holders and promoters, and a chance to host events that could route to multiple destinations given their flow and calendar.
“Visit Quad Cities is closely aligned with our friends at Travel Dubuque and consider them trusted colleagues. I am bullish on the future as their development comes online and how it can positively impact our state-of-the-art youth sports and entertainment asset, the TBK Bank Sports Complex (in Bettendorf),” he said. “To have two major expansion efforts of these amazing assets all happening in Eastern Iowa is something that we should all be proud of — but also be leveraging from our respective communities’ perspective and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.”
Added Herrell: “The energy is positive, and we can harness it to attract more visitors, talent, and incremental investment. There is no better time than right now to do this as we position for growth and our future.”
The perspective from the Cedar Rapids Tourism office is the same, with VenuWorks of Cedar Rapids Executive Director Michael Silva noting, “all Eastern Iowa cities will benefit.”
“We anticipate most of the hotel stays to be centered around Dubuque,” he added, “although we may get some families that will stay in our amazing hotels in Cedar Rapids.”
The heightened exposure both communities received from the nationally televised minor league game also is a plus.
“Eastern Iowa is rapidly becoming one of the best regions in the country for baseball,” Mr. Herrell said. “The Field of Dreams opportunity is a watershed moment and asset that is leverageable from a sports tourism and branding standpoint.
“The state’s ability to position Travel Iowa and broader economic development interests coupled with the value the series of MLB/MiLB events produce provides a serious lift. You are seeing compression that spreads outside of Dubuque to Galena, Cedar Rapids, the Quad Cities region, and other communities throughout Eastern Iowa. And the brand visibility realized through the telecast, credentialed media coverage, and those connected to one of the most treasured films of all time make this something truly special and uniquely Iowa.
“We are incredibly proud of the River Bandits, who are arguably one of the most storied Minor League Baseball franchises in history,” Mr. Herrell added. “Having them play and represent the Quad Cities recently was a huge deal. The visibility for the Davenport Blue Sox during the lead-up, the game itself, and the post-game exposure was immeasurable and something that we hope happens again in the future. People from around the world are talking about the games and sharing their experiences in social media which advances our narrative in a positive direction.”