When the news broke last week that the College Football Hall of Fame was moving to Atlanta, the only surprise was its new home, and not Dallas. Having a son who works in the television media world in Dallas, I was very familiar with the significant efforts being extended to the National Football Foundation’s headquarters to attract the Hall to the Dallas/Ft.Worth metroplex.
When the College Football of Fame was moved to South Bend from an unsuccessful location in Ohio back in 1994, there were extensive discussions regarding the advisability of spending $18 million to build the Hall. Long-time critics such as Jim Cierzniak have never backed off from their strong, consistent opposition to the project. From the very beginning the Hall has been a huge financial drain on the taxpayers of South Bend requiring yearly support payments of up to $750,000. The city is still on the hook to repay the remainder of the $18 million original construction bond issue to the tune of another $11.9 million of which $9.3 million is principal and a projected $2.5 million is in interest costs.
Hindsight being so accurate, it is now clear that the original projections of the Hall’s potential attendance and revenue were well off the mark. Clearly some significant miscalculations were made by the decision-makers when the first due diligence was performed by the city officials. Ex-South Bend Mayor and former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan promised the taxpayers that not one public dollar would be used, because he believed in the optimistic projections of both attendance and sponsorships, both of which never materialized. Thus the local taxpayers were hung out to dry and the National Football Foundation (NFF), seeing the handwriting on the wall of the Hall, sought greener pastures.
Looking back, the NFF had a dream contract with the City of South Bend and never had anything to lose. The original mistake in the deal was the contract itself, because all of the financial responsibility was solely on the city, and not the NFF.
Personally, I have some opinions on the Hall’s failure. I was a Docent volunteer at the Hall some years ago and there were many hard working people who tried to make the Hall a success, but I never felt the paid staff was pulling their share of the load. For instance, the Hall does not open early on football weekends to permit fans to visit the Hall and waits until 10AM? Frequently when I worked Friday’s from 10AM ‘til 12noon there would only be five or six visitors on non-game weekends, partially because the price of admission was too high. Entry to the Hall is not fan/kid friendly. Although local residents receive an admission discount, it is not that much.
Volunteers such as the late, great Jim Baumgartner gave his heart and soul to the Hall, but he could not overcome the site’s location in a parking scarce South Bend downtown. I always felt the Hall would have attracted more visitors had it been built near the Notre Dame exit of the Indiana Toll Road, and not ten miles into the city.
Well all of that is now water over the dam, and the City is scrambling to find a way out of their budget dilemma. It certainly will not be easy, because they now have a huge continuing financial obligation and a 58,000 square foot albatross around their neck. I personally urge the City officials to go slow and make sure they get it right this time. A quick decision is clearly not advisable, because that is what got them in trouble to begin with.
The South Bend Tribune in an editorial today rubbed its hands together and stroked its brow about how great the Hall was and how bad it feels. Where were they in their great all-knowing opinion when the Hall was only in the planning stage? The Editorial Board in my opinion has some responsibility on this issue too. The Tribune has been running a poll the past few days asking for the community’s suggestion for the future use of the Hall, and the early results are shocking.
Question: What would you like to see in place of the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown South Bend?
Specialty shops 13%
Entertainment venue 31%
WOW! The result of this poll scares the hell out of me, especially during these questionable economic times. I, for one, hope the politicians do not go for a quick fix with gambling, because the consequences can be frightful. That is all this community needs is more people on the welfare rolls due to gambling addictions. It is time to face the facts that South Bend is not the center of robust economic activity and it is time to stop fooling ourselves that it will be in the near future.
For some reason, this community loves to celebrate failure with such expensive follies as the College Football Hall of Fame, the Studebaker Museum, and the Recreational Vehicle Hall of Fame. The Football Hall of Fame failed because it had a poor location, was mismanaged, was located in too small a market to sustain the needed attendance base. The other two follies have a dying support base too. I suspect some of my younger readers do not know what Studebakers are.
It would not surprise me to hear that City Hall wants to open a museum to salute the welfare crowd or the empty, blighted homes that flourish on the West Side.
It is time for the politicians in South Bend to get honest with themselves and the citizens who are paying their salaries. Goal one should be to get decent jobs to come into the community to improve the tax base. They cannot continue to count on the University of Notre Dame to bail them out, and local citizens have long run out of patience with politicians who promise everything and deliver little.
Now, on the lighter side, I have suggestions for the long-term use of the precious land where the Hall of Fame is now located. First close the Hall as soon as possible, terminate the staff, and save a substantial amount of money. Then implode the building, because its unique inner structure is of little or no use for anything other than its current tenant. Take the scrap and re-cycle it earning some amount of money in this Green-conscious society. Fill in the hole, level it, and plant corn and soy beans. Harvest the crops when matured and feed the local prison inmates, thus saving more money. Apply to Congressman Joe Donnelly for a government agricultural subsidy, and apply for a government grant for carbon credits.
All these suggestions would provide jobs, reduce costs, and contribute to reducing the City’s financial obligations to pay off the Hall bonds. South Bend can announce to the world that they are “going green,” and Democrats, Liberals, even Republicans, and bleeding hearts from across the nation can flock to the city to see the project first hand thus filling the empty hotel rooms and generating more tax revenue from the Hotel/Motel Tax. Win-Win-Win.
Or, the property could be offered to ACORN to move their national headquarters to the Hall’s site. They could apply to Washington for huge government subsidies that could help the city pay off bond obligations. Clearly there are many local projects to keep ACORN Community Organizers busy solving the needs of the citizenry.
I’m sure you get the idea. The property once vacant will be a joke. It was ill conceived from the start – location, lack of parking, a three story building with two stories below ground, etc.
Eventually the City of South Bend should learn how to perform due diligence. Do you suspect the citizens of South Bend just may remember what their current politicians have given them for their money…nothing but tax increases? One must wonder when the people will learn from their repeated mistakes in voting the same clowns into office again…again…again…and again. There are solutions to South Bend’s financial embarrassments, but not with the current bunch of political hacks.