The Iowa legislature has endorsed the idea of providing a $16.5 million state sales tax rebate to the company planning a sports complex around the “Field of Dreams” near Dyersville.
Senator Tom Hancock, a Democrat from Epworth, expects kids from around the globe to visit.
“This is about fun and family,” Hancock said Tuesday during Senate debate. “…They’re already receiving requests, even before the facility’s built.”
The “Field of Dreams” was made famous in a 1989 movie and the field — surrounded by row upon row of corn — mostly has been maintained as it appeared in the movie. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, urged senators to take steps to prevent the developers of the sports complex from getting other state tax breaks if they get this one.
“In that movie, the main character, Ray — he heard a voice and he invested his money to build a baseball stadium,” Chelgren said. “He didn’t do it with taxpayer money. He didn’t do it with a bailout. He took the risk himself.”
Chelgren lost his bid to limit the developers from getting other state tax breaks, however. The bill passed the Senate Tuesday and it passed the House this morning. Representative Steve Lukan, a Republican from New Vienna, said an entire industry is developing to target kids between the ages of eight and 14 who play baseball and softball.
“Many families participate in places like Cooperstown, New York, built around the Hall of Fame. Cal Ripken has a similar facility,” Lukan said. “And this one is intended to provide opportunities here in Iowa, to bring families here, to participate in a travel baseball facility that hopefully will be attracting current and former Major Leaguers and we hope will actually bring around 60,000 out-of-state visitors to the state of Iowa.”
Representative Dave Jacoby, a Democrat from Coralville, voted for the bill, but suggested the project could have qualified for some of the old state economic development grant programs Republicans have shelved.
“This is an exemplary project and I’ll be supporting it,” Jacoby said. “But it just highlights the need that we have for a Values Fund, I-JOBS and Vision Iowa.”
Representative Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Clarion, said he prefers this type of deal, where developers get to keep any new, locally-generated sales tax revenue rather than the old method of giving a direct state grant.
“I don’t think it’s a bad way at all to do things,” Iverson said. “Now, is it going to bring in the tourism and everything that is talked about? I’m not sure, but I like this so much better than the Values Fund where you give somebody a bunch of money and then things don’t happen, but our money’s still gone, or the taxpayers’ money is still gone.”
Developers of the “All-Star Ballpark Heaven” say it will feature 24 baseball and softball diamonds, as well as an indoor practice facility and dorms for teams that would compete in tournaments.
During senate debate of the proposal, Senator Bill Dotzler directed his remarks to the developers: “Thank you Stillman family for an idea, for tourism and economic growth of the region. You hit one out of the park.”
Mike and Denise Stillman of Oak Park, Illinois are leading the investor group that’s behind the project. The idea for the sports complex was born after the Stillmans visited the site in 2010 so Mike Stillman and his eight-year-old son could play catch on the field, just like the characters in the movie do.
This tax rebate cleared the Iowa House on a 53-43 vote. It passed the Senate yesterday on a 34-14 vote. Next stop: Governor Branstad’s desk.