- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

DYERSVILLE, Iowa (AP) - Nearly two years after its announced opening date, All-Star Ballpark Heaven has yet to materialize.

The Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1RzoqYu ) reports that plans for the 24-field youth baseball and softball complex are underway at the Field of Dreams movie site, according to Denise Stillman, president and CEO of field ownership group Go the Distance Baseball LLC.

But deadlines established for the project to receive millions in state funding have passed and objectives set in a development agreement with the City of Dyersville remain unfulfilled.

It’s unclear when the complex will emerge from the iconic cornfield.

“There are things that happen in business that are unforeseen, but we are still very committed and excited about the project,” Stillman said.

Go the Distance Baseball announced plans to purchase the storied movie site from Don and Becky Lansing in late 2011. Stillman soon announced plans to build All-Star Ballpark Heaven through a $38 million capital investment involving the construction of fields, bunkhouses, a swimming pool and an indoor practice dome.

Stillman planned to open the complex in 2014, which would have coincided with the 25th anniversary of the release of the film. But difficulties finding investors and lawsuits from neighboring property owners have hindered progress.

Residents calling themselves the Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee filed suit against the Dyersville City Council’s decision to rezone the movie site for commercial use. Committee members argued city officials failed to act in the best interest of the community.

The committee lost its case in Iowa District Court for Dubuque County in May 2015. Susan Hess, the committee’s attorney, said she is waiting to hear whether the Iowa Supreme Court will hear an appeal.

Meantime, Stillman continues to secure investors for the project, the cost of which has risen to more than $70 million. Stillman said the project has about 30 investors, but she would not say how much is raised or how big of a funding shortfall remains.

“Right now, we’re just continuing to raise funds,” Stillman said. “Every day, there is progress made.”

In 2012, state legislators approved a $16.5 million tax incentive for the project. But developers failed to meet a 2013 deadline, prompting lawmakers to update the rebate bill to allow any sports complex to apply for up to $2.5 million in tax incentives.

All-Star Ballpark Heaven can qualify for the rebate. Stillman said she hopes for “revisions” to the legislation.

City leaders in 2012 approved a development agreement promising project developers $5.1 million in tax rebates. The agreement also established deadlines that since have passed, but City Administrator Mick Michel said the development agreement is valid, along with any promised funds for the project.

Dyersville Mayor Dan Willenborg supported the development agreement as a City Council member in 2012. He said the project has his complete support, despite the setbacks.

“These sorts of things happen in business, but I’m sure everything will work out,” Willenborg said.

While her company continues to raise funds, Stillman will continue running and promoting the Field of Dreams movie site, she said. Under her watch, the movie site has gone from attracting 65,000 visitors per year to around 100,000, she said.

The field’s season will begin March 25 due to good weather, Stillman said. No one has yet been chosen for the ceremonial first pitch, which will be in April, and Ghost Sundays with the Ghost Players will begin July 3.

The continued success of the movie site primarily can be attributed to special events held through the years, including a 25th anniversary celebration in June 2014 featuring film star Kevin Costner. More events are in the works, Stillman said.

“All I can tell you is that we do have things planned, and we think people will be excited,” she said.

Keith Rahe, president of Travel Dubuque and organizer of Ghost Sundays, agreed that tourism at the field has improved.

“We definitely have seen more interest ever since those special events she’s been doing out there,” Rahe said. “It’s not just a showcase for Dyersville. It’s a showcase for Iowa.”


Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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