Field of pipe dreams

Goosy, a friend of mine who is a technological hermit living in California (his technology is limited to a television and land-line telephone), knows that I’m a huge Royals baseball fan. He calls me on a regular basis to see how I’m doing. He asked if I was going to watch the big baseball game in Iowa, referring to the Field of Dreams game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs. He was shocked when I told him I didn’t watch last year, and I wouldn’t be watching this year.

“I am not a Cubs fan nor a Reds fan,” I told him. “And there are so many other problems with this corny promotion that it has literally become a field of ‘dreams.’”

In a politically timed effort, two days before the big game, Iowa Governor Reynolds handed $12.5 million dollars to the city of Dyersville to build a stadium near the original Field of Dreams site. The project has already received $11 million in state money earlier this year to connect water and sewer infrastructure from the City of Dyersville to the movie site. The money for all projects came from the American Rescue Plan, a federal law intended to “provide emergency grants, lending, and investment to hard-hit small businesses.” The intent of the American Rescue Plan was saving small businesses. Building a major league stadium in a rural, isolated area is anything but small.

So, why build a stadium in a corn field where one already exists? The current site has a capacity for 8,000 fans, the proposed permanent stadium will seat 3,000, which can expand to 8,000 if another major league game is played there. If two major league baseball games have successfully been played there, why build a new one?

The city administrator of Dyersville, Mick Michel, was quoted as saying that the grant “allows for development opportunities like a hotel and a permanent MLB stadium, along with a future convention center and other opportunities to service the needs at that site.” That’s a pretty big dream he’s having about the future. The big question about expansion is: “If they build it, will they come?”

Several opinions from experts say the area cannot support this project. The city of 4,100 is not in a position to provide enough restaurants, hotels, and other support businesses for a project of this magnitude. Considering the low unemployment rate of Dubuque County, Iowa, 2.2% as of May 2022, a commonsense check will indicate that area businesses will not have a strong cache of potential employees to work in the low-wage food, hotel, and related businesses.

Another potential problem is future funding. Ninety percent of the funding for the stadium will come from various public funds, aka taxpayer revenue. Michel and other economic development entities in the northwest part of the state believe that if a stadium is built, it will encourage additional private investment in the project. It’s just a theory; there is no data to support the enthusiasm. A hotel on the site will surely expect to be built using whatever public funds are available, including the use of tax increment financing [TIF], a heavily abused development option that delays a developer’s property tax responsibility into the future, far beyond the property’s prime tax rates, usually ten to twenty years or more.

Travel Dubuque, a tourist information center, estimates the grant proposal will create eighty-one jobs. There is no information on whether those jobs are seasonal or permanent. Baseball is not a year-round business. Will employees be able to collect unemployment benefits from November through March when the ground is too wet, frozen, or snowy to work on? Probably not, this isn’t heaven; it’s Iowa.

A severe problem with this permanent project is its damage to the environment. Dan Evans, the COO of the group that now owns the Field of Dreams site, said that the group is “deeply committed to preserving the romantic experience of the Field of Dreams, including the views, the baseball diamond, the farmhouse, and the cornfields. Those images will never change.” Planting corn on the same ground year after year is not being the best steward of Iowa farmland. In a Des Moines Register article, it was noted that nutrients are necessary to keep the corn tall and green. Nutrients, also known as chemicals, leach into the streams and groundwater that Iowans rely upon for survival. If Ray Kinsella saw ghosts coming out of the cornfield, he would have rotated his corn with hemp.

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