Could Four Winds Field Expand?
By Jeff Rea (originally published, South Bend Tribune, January 8, 2023
Could an expansion of Four Winds Field be on the horizon? The Indiana General Assembly will play a critical role in that decision as they consider changes to legislation passed in 1997 to create financially self-sustaining sports stadiums for professional teams – teams like our own South Bend Cubs.
South Bend Cubs Team Owner Andrew Berlin is now working with the city of South Bend on an ambitious plan to expand and improve Four Winds Field again. When completed, no other city the size of South Bend, anywhere in the country, will feature an amenity like this.
The net result could be a big financial win for our region. At this point, the South Bend Cubs bring an additional $24 million in economic impact to the region every year
(AECOM Study 2019). Few cities the size of South Bend can boast of an award-winning stadium with such a significant financial impact. Improvements to the stadium will only drive up that economic impact.
The stadium is only part of an overall strategy to improve the quality of place here in the region. We have several natural amenities across our region such as forests, lakes, and rivers, and manmade amenities like universities, museums, stadiums, parks, and theatres. A good mix of both is critical to our efforts to attract people and businesses to the area.
Hundreds of millions of dollars pour into our South Bend/Elkhart region every year from these attractions. We all benefit from the jobs they create. We all benefit from the infusion to our regional economy.
But few, if any, of these amenities attract 300,000 people annually to downtown South Bend, like Four Winds Field does. And fewer still have launched aggressive expansions and improvements to their facilities without the help of capital campaigns, financial grants, or assistance from local government.
The general idea behind the 1997 legislation was to collect taxes that would then be re-invested directly into stadium improvements. In 2017, that special legislation expired. Locally, from the time of its inception through 2017, the team collected more tax money than it took to build the stadium in the first place (less than $10 million).
What happened to the money? As per legislative requirement, it was used to make desperately needed improvements to the stadium – just as Hoosier lawmakers intended. If you’ve been to the stadium in recent years, you’ve seen firsthand the improvements that have been made.
In addition, when Berlin arrived as the new owner of the team on November 11, 2011, he made some incredible promises to the local community about the future of the team and the stadium. Since that day, he’s opened his own personal checkbook and put $32 million dollars of his own money into the stadium and surrounding properties.
Yes, we’ve been fortunate. Not every city has private individuals writing checks to improve city-owned property. And the results speak for themselves. Those improvements that have been made have had a significant impact on our area, as has the decades-old plan to attract and retain professional and amateur sports to the state of Indiana. Most cities with teams are better off for it.
When the original legislation expired, Berlin worked directly with state legislators and Indiana Governor Holcomb to renew it for South Bend. Now lawmakers will take a fresh look at the legislation during its upcoming session, with an eye towards increasing the cap on what can be collected, which in turn could help fuel additional stadium improvements.
As spring gets closer, people from our region will not only be looking forward to opening day (April 7), but will also be keeping a close eye on the Indiana General Assembly and the action they could take to stimulate future economic growth in our region.