Iowa Invests in Field of Taxpayer Nightmares | Citizens Against Government Waste

Iowa Invests in Field of Taxpayer Nightmares

The WasteWatcher

It is one of the most recognizable, and misquoted, movie lines of all time: “If you build it, he will come.”  In an effort to build upon the Field of Dreams nostalgia and live up to the “they will come” misquote, the city of Dyersville, Iowa, has joined with the city of Dubuque, Dubuque County, Travel Dubuque, and the Dyersville Economic Development Corporation, to create the nonprofit Iowa Ballpark, Inc., to construct a $50 million stadium on the site of the 1989 film.

The new stadium will replace a temporary stadium constructed for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Field of Dreams Game.  Professional baseball first came to the cornfields of Dyersville on August 12, 2021, with a game featuring the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox.  The temporary stadium was used for a second game on August 11, 2022, between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs.  While the MLB has expressed interest in making the Field of Dreams Game an annual tradition, the league has not yet made any final commitment.

On April 6, 2022, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) announced the creation of a $100 million Destination Iowa fund that would provide grants for cities, counties, and nonprofits through four separate funds: Economically Significant Development, Outdoor Recreation, Tourism Attraction, and Creative Placemaking.  On August 9, 2022, the third round of Destination Iowa grants included $12.5 million, or 25 percent, of the $50 million for the Field of Dreams stadium infrastructure.  The grant funds are coming in part from money distributed to the states by through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which provided $350 billion to the states for infrastructure and other purposes that were supposed to be related to COVID-19 relief.  Regardless of one’s nostalgic longings and love of baseball, connecting a baseball field in Iowa to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic is a stretch.

State spending for the stadium comes on top of a failed effort by Gov. Reynolds to entice NBCUniversal to develop an adaptation of the movie for television.  The effort led the state to allocate $6 million in Destination Iowa funds to aid in the production of the limited series.  To date, no streaming service or network has elected to take up the project.  Gov. Reynolds did not explain how a television show based on a movie was related to COVID relief through ARPA.

The permanent stadium is part of a massive project intended to build on the film’s fame.  Iowa Ballpark, Inc. will own the stadium.  It will be leased by MLB Hall of Famer Frank Thomas’ Go the Distance development group, which will also spend $80 million to finance the construction of baseball and softball fields, trails, housing, a fieldhouse, and a fishing pond, among other amenities.

Given the long history of publicly subsidized stadiums failing to pay off, the benefit that a new ballpark will offer Iowa taxpayers is questionable at best.  An hour’s drive from Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second largest city, the ballpark and the associated development are likely to be a limited draw for tourists from outside of the Hawkeye State.  Given the limited capacity to take in revenue, it is hard to imagine how the investment of taxpayer resources will ever pay for itself.  If there is sufficient demand for such a project, and it remains a ratings hit, it should be paid for by Go the Distance or the MLB, not Iowa taxpayers.  A taxpayer-funded Field of Dreams stadium is definitely not Heaven.