Neighbors fret about ‘Field of Dreams’ plan

  • Tue Mar 13th, 2012 7:48pm
  • News

By Ryan J. Foley Associated Press

DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Should we build it, and would they come?

Those are the questions being debated in the Iowa town where the “Field of Dreams” movie was filmed as it considers a $38 million proposal to turn the farmland around the famous cornfield diamond into one of the nation’s largest youth baseball tournament and training complexes.

An Illinois couple has announced plans to buy the farmhouse and baseball field featured in the 1989 film, along with surrounding land, to build the “All-Star Ballpark Heaven,” a complex of 24 baseball and softball diamonds, an indoor training facility and lodging.

While the project could provide an economic jolt to Dyersville, it has unleashed fierce emotions that have pitted neighbors against each other and raised difficult questions for leaders of the town of 4,000. Should the city extend water and sewer service to make the project viable? Would enough people come to make it succeed? And if so, would the development ruin the nostalgic, country feel that made this part of rural Iowa a draw in the first place?

“This is one of those projects that has a high risk, but a high reward,” said Jim Heavens, the city’s part-time mayor.

Dyersville, 30 miles west of Dubuque, has barely grown in recent decades and some residents say that’s fine. The town has low unemployment and low taxes.

Since the movie was filmed, about a farmer who builds a baseball field that attracts the ghosts of White Sox players banned for throwing the 1919 World Series, the farm has attracted a stream of visitors despite few amenities: a house that is usually closed and a well-kept baseball field surrounded by corn. One of the most popular activities is a simple game of catch at the site. But some businesses and attractions, such as the National Farm Toy Museum, got used to the tourism and were hurt when it began to drop in recent years.

The most vocal opposition to the proposed development comes from a small group of the farmers who raise cattle and pigs and grow corn and soybeans nearby. They worry the 193-acre project, expected to draw caravans of players and families every year, would disrupt their rural life. They worry about driving farm equipment in the traffic, and whether they’ll face regulations on spraying crops and spreading manure with so many children nearby.

Investors Mike and Denise Stillman came up with the idea for the baseball complex in 2010 after Mike, a lawyer, and his son, then 8, stopped to play catch on the way home from a Minnesota Twins game. It would join a handful of such complexes in the U.S., including one near the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The site would create hundreds of jobs in a six-county region, according to a study commissioned by developers. Up to 1,500 families of players aged 8 through 14 would trek to the site weekly for camps and tournaments, the study said.

Many neighbors are skeptical about those figures. And some employers who already have difficulty finding workers wonder about the impact on the labor pool.