116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Jack Roeder helped build nine baseball diamonds in the middle of a cornfield along single-lane County Home Road on the outskirts of Marion.
Now thousands of people are coming.
As Prospect Meadows Sports Complex is in the midst of its busiest month since opening in 2019, businesses are reaping the benefits of the “Field of Dreams”-esque flocking of out-of-state visitors.
Tournaments at Prospect Meadows in July alone are expected to result in 5,000 hotel rooms and $5 million in economic activity, according to estimates from Prospect Meadows staff with the help of some Cedar Rapids Tourism Office information.
“The ripple effect is more than just our metro area, arguably even more than just Linn County,” said Nick Glew, the president of Marion Economic Development Corp.
The complex has eight fields with regular dimensions and one smaller “Miracle Field” designed to give disabled children the opportunity to play baseball.
Much of the activity at the Marion baseball and softball complex comes from Cedar Rapids-based Perfect Game, a nationally recognized youth baseball company. Its founder, Jerry Ford, told The Gazette in 2019 he wouldn’t sell Perfect Game if offered $100 million.
“People who play in those (Perfect Game) systems, they don’t see state boundaries or miles traveled, they’ll go anywhere,” Glew said.
“The great thing for a community like Marion is their checkbook travels with them.”
On one recent Friday evening, vehicles in the gravel parking lot had license plates from a spattering of Midwestern states — as far west as South Dakota, as far south as Missouri and as far northeast as Michigan.
The facility draws teams from 15 to 20 states per year, said Roeder, president and CEO of Prospect Meadows. Steve James, general manager of the complex, estimated 95 percent of teams drive to Prospect Meadows.
Their spending has made its way to nearby restaurants and hotels.
Steve Smyka, general manager of the Cedar Rapids Marriott — about 10 miles from the facility — told The Gazette in March a tournament at Prospect Meadows often fills another 50 to 100 rooms, even during the COVID-19 pandemic when Roeder said travel was more “limited.”
Roeder has heard of Prospect Meadows visitors booking hotels as far away as Coralville, about a 45-minute drive from the complex.
“There were some feasibility studies that suggested that the entire metro area doesn't necessarily have the hotel rooms needed for when they have big events,” Glew said.
When Prospect Meadows started becoming a reality for Marion, the city “was not ready to support developments” near the site, Glew said.
Glew believes the increased interest in Marion’s East Town Crossings development, which is about 4 miles south of Prospect Meadows on Highway 13, is a result of the increased traffic from baseball and softball tournaments.
“There’s lots of new energy, lots of new development and investment that’s happening out there,” Glew said. “You don’t have to look far to see how much has developed out in that area, and much of that interest has been influenced by the traffic generated by Prospect Meadows.”
Nearby restaurants reap rewards
The Pizza Ranch at East Town Crossings is built for Prospect Meadows tournaments, literally — whether it be the physical location or the amenities inside.
“With what was going on with Prospect Meadows to the north, that was a no-brainer,” said Brandon Pratt, the owner of the North Liberty-based Lion Development Group that operates the franchise.
The buffet-style restaurant has four party rooms that can be combined or divided to accommodate a group of 12 or 90.
With games ranging from the typical basketball pop-a-shot to two virtual reality roller coaster rides — the “King Kong” option with spiders flying at you as air blows in your face and a calmer option for younger children — the arcade room is designed to entertain a variety of age levels.
“People are discovering us for the first time,” Pratt said. “Our hope is that next year and the third year and the fourth year, we build up the rapport with the coaches and the teams.”
Pratt’s Marion franchise already has filled its 235-seat capacity at times during baseball and softball season.
Pizza Ranch isn’t the only restaurant to see an influx in hungry patrons. The nearby Jersey Mike’s and Culver’s locations also frequently have long lines on tournament weekends.
“A guy who was here this past weekend said, ‘I’ve never waited 35 minutes in line for a sub sandwich,’” said Roeder, the president and CEO who sometimes doubles as a golf cart driver for tournament attendees.
Scott Rowland was one of the out-of-state visitors to spend locally while visiting Prospect Meadows. After driving from Moline, Ill., for a tournament a couple weeks ago, he ate at “some local restaurant.” Had there been more time, he would’ve tried a go-cart or mini-golf between games.
Rich Rollins, from Downers Grove, Ill., was at Prospect Meadows that same day. He was planning a visit to the “Field of Dreams” movie site, which is about an hour away from the complex, during a break between games the next day.
Looking to grow even more
Roeder is optimistic about more tournaments coming to Prospect Meadows in the future after construction delays in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Some tournaments have been so large that Prospect Meadows’ eight regulation-sized fields weren’t enough to host all the games. Fields in Independence and at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids have functioned as auxiliary locations.
He anticipates about 275 teams coming in September, albeit for shorter tournaments to accommodate school schedules.
May and June, Roeder said, are “probably the two months that we can improve on the most.”
“I think there’s great opportunity for us in those two months to really grow,” said James, the general manager. “August is another month that will always be a challenge because the travel ball teams shut down. … The demand to play tournaments in that month just isn’t there yet.”
The artificial turf infields have extended Prospect Meadows’ calendar for hosting baseball and softball games.
“It allows you to schedule things that otherwise would be a flip of a coin and maybe more of a roll of the die — one out of six shot of being able to get (games) in,” James said.
“You don’t have to worry about the early season conditions that you would in March.”
Without the turf, “there’s no way that a team from Las Vegas comes here,” Roeder said.
Roeder and his staff already have talked about adding to the relatively new complex, including building four smaller fields for younger age levels.
Right now, four of the eight regulation-sized fields have lights. Roeder has thought about adding lights to the other four so games can go later in the spring and fall. But plenty of other projects are looming on his to-do list.
Planting trees on the site, opening up four permanent restrooms and finishing interior work on the front office building and scout towers are all on the cornfield-lined horizon.
Roeder eventually wants to use Prospect Meadows, a 501(c) (3) organization, as an avenue for helping other not-for-profit organizations.
“We’re not there yet, but someday, would be nice if any profits that we make could go back into the nonprofit and charitable world,” Roeder said.
In the meantime, Roeder has heard plenty of “Field of Dreams” comparisons — a modest white farmhouse even overlooks one of the fields.
Does it get ever old?
“No,” Roeder said without hesitation.
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