Community, investors ponder future of closed Wigwam gym
ANDERSON — The clock is ticking on any effort to save the famed Wigwam for future use, but a decision on whether or not to move forward with the effort has to be made by March 1.
Last week, Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith appointed a Blue Ribbon Study Committee to look at the possible rehabilitation and reuse of the Wigwam complex.
The complex is owned by the Anderson Community School System, which will demolish the structure unless a buyer is found.
Greg Winkler, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, told The Herald Bulletin that given its size, continuing to use the Wigwam for sporting events is only a part of the mix.
Terry Thimlar, a former high school basketball coach in Indiana, is hoping to place an NBA D-League developmental team in the facility.
Winkler said Thimlar has started a legal entity that can sell shares and solicit contributions for the effort. Some funds have been raised, and Thimlar continues trying to raise money; funds are being placed in an escrow account and would be returned to investors if the project doesn’t proceed.
He said Thimlar has developed relationships with NBA teams.
Thimlar said Friday the financial commitments on the project are moving forward, with investors expressing an interest from across Indiana and the U.S.
“We have been working on this for a long time,” he said. “Our plan is to bring it back to life as a vital part of the Anderson community.”
Thimlar said the complex is being considered for concerts, conventions and trade shows in addition to the potential use of sporting events.
He said the schools and the city don’t want to take financial responsibility for the Wigwam complex, something the investor group is willing to undertake.
“There is a lot of potential for viable uses,” Thimlar said.
“Timing is critical,” Winkler said. “We have three months at the maximum.”
The Blue Ribbon Committee is scheduled to meet for the first time on Dec. 23.
The committee is being tasked with determining the actual cost of rehabbing the complex, which besides the main gymnasium also includes a cafeteria and former classrooms.
“The committee has to complete their work by early next year,” Winkler said. “If we’re going to be serious about the effort, a plan has to be presented.”
Tom Snyder, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, said the intent of the group is to have a recommendation to the community early next year and to begin reaching out to the community.
He said the committee wants to hear from the private investment group and obtain ACS data on the estimated cost of rehabilitation and reuse of the Wigwam, to include the amount set aside for demolition.
“There is a strong possibility to repurpose the facility with a minimal new investment with a good revenue stream,” Snyder said. “The closure of the Wigwam, a national icon, would be bad for the community and county.”
Thimlar said investors have gone through the building from top to bottom.
“We have done our due diligence,” he said. “We had an evaluation done of the roof system. The roof is not an immediate concern; there is not a need to replace the entire roof.”
The Anderson Community Schools and city of Anderson don’t have large amounts of money to put into the project, Winkler said.
Potential funding sources include the county’s food and beverage tax, which was implemented in 1985 to finance a downtown conference center.
“We need to find a viable use for the rest of the building,” he said of the area other than the gymnasium. “What is the cost of basic rehabilitation and to either repair or replace the roof?”
The complex also needs a new heating and air conditioning system.
Winkler said it will take a public-private partnership to save the structure and that federal and state tax credits could be available for education or retraining components to a solution.
The deadline to apply for tax credits is March, with the awarding of the credits in November.
“The city has an idea for an educational component,” Winkler said, but didn’t want to provide details. “The component is being done in other parts of the country.”
Another aspect of a future development is to attract entrepreneurs to develop new products, which could be complemented by the Flagship business incubator, he said.
A conference center at the site will also be considered, Winkler said.
“This has to be a community project involving the city, county, convention bureau and local not-for-profits,” he said.
Part of the roof of the Wigwam is 33 years old and another part is 29 years old, and those roofs were designed for 20- to 25-year life spans, Tim Long, a member of the ACS school board, said. The Wigwam’s electrical system dates from the 1960s and the boilers are 1970s vintage, Long added.
This story was distributed by the Associated Press.