Residents of Elkhart may not have a professional ballpark to call their own this summer, but that’s all about to change. Plans were set in motion for the Elkhart Miracle’s baseball stadium at a groundbreaking ceremony held on Friday.
It has been five years of planning and scouting locations but the Miracle’s owner, Craig Wallin finally settled on the former American Countryside Farmers Market. Wallin entered a purchase agreement for the venue with Waste-Away Group who originally bought it at an auction.
“You know it's good to start but it's even better to finish, so we're excited about today but we're really, really excited about opening day in 2014,” said Wallin.
The Elkhart Miracle joined the Northern League several months ago—an independent league of teams that has existed since 1902. Although they’re not affiliated with any major league team like the South Bend Silver Hawks, Wallin explains they are still a pro-ball team.
Future plans for the stadium were proudly displayed on the third floor of the venue. Wallin brought in family, local government and team management to kick things off, even bringing in the team’s primary food vendor to give folks a sampling of the type of snacks they’ll offer.
The former market will be transformed into a “stadiumplex” said Wallin. What once held farmers’ booths will now house food vendors and shops for the team.
“The market is already set up for that, we’ll probably have 75 or 100 people allowed here with 10-by-10 booths during the time.” Wallin hopes to bring in non-profits from the area to fill the vendor spots and increase exposure for local businesses.
The west wing of the building has been set aside for club houses for both home and visiting teams as well as training facilities and a possible indoor hitting tunnel. Wallin’s daughter will serve as the team’s trainer when she finishes her master’s degree.
But, food and baseball aren’t all that Wallin has planned for the space. Inside the open, wooded building Wallin wants to host concerts, weddings and other community events.
“I think every year we'll want to do something that'll make this a more special place, we've got a great advantage with the facility that's here already so we got a leg up in that regard,” said Wallin.
For now, the Elkhart Miracle are set for the first few years, said Waillin, but that still leaves room for expanding and adding on to draw in wider audiences. The plan is similar to the Silver Hawks’ plan prior to renovations at Coveleski Stadium.
According to Silver Hawks president, Joseph Hart, “I think the biggest thing with us is obviously we've done a lot of exciting things in the last two years. We have a venue that's become very family oriented and we offer a lot of unique things—it’s an exciting time for the folk in Elkhart putting in a ball club there.”
The Cove draw crowds from a 50 mile radius, but despite the new stadium to be constructed less than 20 miles away, Silver Hawks management doesn’t think it’ll take away from their fan base.
“Each year as we continue to grow, this year we're sitting on a 25-percent increase over last year we're going to make a firm commitment to add things and keep things at the ballpark” Hart added.
When asked about whether or not he thought the future stadium aimed to steal fans, Wallin said “rising tide lifts all ships so we’re going to do the best we can here and we really believe it’s going to benefit baseball in Fort Wayne, it’s going to benefit baseball in South Bend.”