FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – September 11, 2008. The new ballpark in downtown Fort Wayne was still concrete and gravel. Construction well underway, but far from over.
On the future field, where the pitcher’s mound will eventually be, a press conference announced the naming rights for the new ballpark. Parkview Health, the area’s largest employer, would put their name on one of the city’s biggest development projects.
“The incredible thing here is that we’re 15 years in and everybody is still working as well together in this and is as well-aligned [as when we started],” Jason Freier, Hardball Capital CEO and the Fort Wayne TinCaps Team Owner, said. “I think that’s the reason that this continues to be successful and that, you know, as I walk around downtown Fort Wayne now, it looks nothing like downtown Fort Wayne looked like 15 years ago.”
Building a new ballpark downtown and moving the city’s baseball team from a stadium adjacent to the Memorial Coliseum to an area that was still up-and-coming, drew a lot of criticism. The Harrison Square project included the baseball field as well as a hotel and apartments and retail space. The project turned into a catalyst for more downtown development.
“When the field was first built we only had one hotel [downtown]. Now, we have four downtown and there’s talk of a fifth. I cannot believe that Parkview Field itself wasn’t an integral part of all of that,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry (D), said.
Parkview Health pays $300,000 a year for the naming rights. Half of that money goes to maintaining the ballpark. The contract was for ten years, with an optional five-year extension. The contract is currently still under extension of the original deal.
“We’re so glad that we were able to make the investment and to see our name on something that’s so excellent is a real honor,” Mike Packnett, former Parkview Health CEO, said.
Packnett retired at the end of 2022 but was at the helm when the naming rights decisions were made. It was a decision the Parkview Health Board of Directors didn’t make lightly.
“We were at a real inflection point I would say in our community. And as the largest employer, our Board has always been involved with economic development. And this project, and as the mayor said, it proved to be true, was going to be the catalytic project,” Packnett said. “For the next 15 years, I don’t know if there’s been a day where we haven’t had a tower crane working on downtown. It was more of a risk not to do this, for us not to do that naming rights, than do to it.”
Mayor Henry stressed Parkview Health took a leap of faith to believe in the project before it was proven to be a success.
“This stadium could have failed and if so, it would be reflected on Parkview as well. There was a there was a lot of risk involved,” Henry said.
While the nay-sayers were loud, Freier said the Parkview partnership was just what the project needed.
“Having a group like Parkview step up and people like Mike Packnett step up, just added to the credibility of what we were doing down here. Even the people who were doubting before started to consider whether this was going to work,” Freier said.
“It’s really interesting now how many people come up to us and say, ‘I was wrong. We didn’t think would work. I didn’t think personally it would work. But, Mayor I was wrong. And you made a believer out of me,'” Henry added.
As more downtown development continues to happen, Packnett said another benefit of the ballpark is help recruiting talent to Parkview Health.
“It exceeded expectations for recruitment,” he said. “Back in 2006 or 2007, we were having difficulty recruiting ten to 20 physicians and there’s not many years now we don’t recruit 100 physicians to the area and a lot of it started with this and then gave investors confidence to invest more downtown.”
Packnett added Parkview Field helped grow pride in Fort Wayne.
“We talked about ourselves differently in 2006 and 2007 than we do today,” Packnett said. “I think when you have something that’s best in class, and you’re proud of it, and it brings the community together, and it brings that pride level up significantly. I think that’s one of the greatest things that we’ve experienced in Parkview Field.”
Mayor Henry called it a swagger. TinCaps President Mike Nutter agreed.
“I was going to use that same word. I really was, because my kids have used that with me,” Nutter said. “We used to talk about the same timeframe he was talking about. There were so many articles about the brain drain and how do we get them back here and how do we do that? I have a freshman and sophomore in college and you can hear them actually say, ‘Man, it’d be a great place to come back here.’ That’s what I think makes us feel great about, not just the ballpark, but with Parkview and the city’s leadership, that we’re doing some good things.”
While it’s not clear when discussions of a new contract could happen, everyone seemed to want to keep it going.
“For us it’s a no brainer,” Nutter said. “Like Jason said 15 years ago, when you find the right partner, it’s just a matter of figuring things out. We have the best partner any minor league operation could hope for.”
October 2, 2008 was the announcement that the new team name would be the TinCaps. Opening day at the new ballpark came the following spring on April 16, 2009.
Since then, Parkview Field has been named Best Ballpark more than a dozen times, including most recently from Stadium Journey – just announced over the weekend.