Field of Dreams expansion plans heralded by local officials, former owners

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DYERSVILLE, Iowa — The excitement was palpable on Thursday in Dyersville following the announcement that $80 million worth of projects and investments are planned at the iconic Field of Dreams movie site.

Officials with Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams, shared their master plan with the public at a press conference Thursday in the event center at the movie site.

“In just six short months since This is Heaven LLC purchased a controlling interest in Go the Distance Baseball LLC, we have accomplished a great deal,” said Frank Thomas, CEO of Go the Distance Baseball and a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer.

Go the Distance Baseball leaders and other local officials came to the Telegraph Herald on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the ambitious plans, which then were detailed to the public and other news outlets at a press conference Thursday morning.

The $80 million master plan, to be completed in phases by 2025, includes:

  • A youth baseball complex with nine new baseball and softball fields, as well as a 100,000-square-foot fieldhouse.
  • A 104-room boutique hotel.
  • An outdoor concert amphitheater.
  • A recreational vehicle park.
  • An park inclusive to those of all abilities.
  • Jogging trails through cornfields.

Officials estimate that the completion of the ballfields will allow the site to host 1,000 youth teams for tournaments annually, but they also emphasized their commitment to preserving the site of the movie, including the baseball diamond, farmhouse and cornfields.

Rick Heidner, a Chicago-area real estate developer and entrepreneur who heads This is Heaven LLC with Thomas, praised the work that went into the master plan.

“We are 100% committed to this project,” he said. “We see absolutely no reason in the world why it won’t go forward and go forward fast.”

Don and Becky Lansing, who previously owned the Field of Dreams site, were among those at the press conference. The couple was living on the farm when movie producers asked that it be used as the setting for the 1989 “Field of Dreams” film. They sold the site to Go the Distance Baseball in 2011.

“Donny and I saw this (vision), but we would have never been able to bring it to fruition,” Becky Lansing said. “What was important for us was to build the foundation so others could take it over.”

Don Lansing said that when he maintained the Field of Dreams, tourists often would tell him if they noticed that any element of the original field was different from the movie. The fact that the new master plan includes preserving the initial site is important, he said.

“I think they’re on the right road now,” he said. “I think they made the right choice. This movie means so much to people.”

Economic impact

The new developments in the master plan are expected to be a boon for the local economy.

“This project will yield tremendous benefits for eastern Iowa,” Thomas said. “We anticipate that the hotel and youth sports complex will result in hundreds of construction and permanent jobs and infuse more than $25 million annually in direct spending into the local economy.”

A press release states that, “when fully completed, the private development alone will create approximately 170 new full-time-equivalent jobs.”

Reached by the Telegraph Herald, Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp., praised the project. He stressed that the new development will benefit not only Dyersville but Dubuque County as a whole.

“We’re very excited about it,” he said. “We think that this is another plus for the greater Dubuque area being a region of choice to help us retain, create and recruit workforce. … It means nothing but a blue sky for the region.”

Karla Thompson, executive director of Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the new development will be a major asset to the Dyersville community.

“With this putting Dyersville back on the map again, it will affect our local businesses on all levels,” she said.

Local businesses got a taste of increased interest in the Field of Dreams last year, when the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees played a Major League Baseball game at the site.

Shelly Kalb, general manager of Comfort Inn in Dyersville, said the hotel was completely booked for that game, and the planned future developments only will keep things busy.

“I think it’s going to do everybody good,” she said. “We could definitely use it, but I think we’re going to have to put even more hotels in. With everything going on, even with them bringing in a lot of baseball teams (for summer youth tournaments), I don’t have enough rooms.”

Tara Rahe, owner of recently opened restaurant and bar Fuse, said the new plans will have a positive impact on the business community.

“It’s going to draw everybody to the downtown area, not just the Field of Dreams,” she said. “We are a great community with shops downtown and restaurants downtown, and this is a good opportunity to showcase what we have.”

Tom Olberding, owner of Textile Brewing Co., called it a positive development for the community. He said the brewery will work hard to meet future demands.

He also said he has had great conversations with Dan Evans, Go the Distance Baseball chief operating officer and former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager, and that he hopes leaders on the project will continue to be transparent about their plans going forward.

“I think the more transparent they are about it, the less people will be concerned about what’s happening,” Olberding said. “Dan Evans genuinely seems to be excited to be here and to create something that we can all be proud of.”

To complete the expansion plan, an additional 100 acres will be added to the current 190-acre site. Heidner said the group soon will close on the purchase of the additional acreage.

“And we will be transparent to the farmers and the locals,” Thomas said on Wednesday. “When something is happening, we will keep them informed.”

Community buzz

People in Dyersville on Thursday primarily expressed excitement about the planned project, while the reaction on social media was more divided.

Mayor Jeff Jacque said there were whispers about potential development when he became mayor four months ago, but he did not see the master plan until a few weeks ago.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s an excellent opportunity to showcase what we have here.”

He said the hotel will be a great asset to the community, as there is a need for more lodging.

“There will be a lot of opportunity for young people to get jobs here and stay here,” he said.

City Council Member Jim Gibbs noted that the planned development follows plans to bring water and sewer services to the Field of Dreams. Work on both of those services is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

He also listed the hotel as an asset for Dyersville, as well as the new recreational opportunities for the younger generation.

“I think this will give kids a great experience,” he said.

Allyson Dress, of Dyersville, said she is excited to see her young son play ball on the new fields.

“This will help so many struggling businesses,” she added. “When I walked down Main Street, I can see it. It’s been so hard.”

Interviewed in Dyersville on Thursday, Linda Wolf, of Epworth, Iowa, said she was worried about the number of restaurants in Dyersville that can serve potential droves of tourists, noting that several eateries closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think there needs to be a lot more thinking about what’s happening there,” she said. “But I think for the area people, it will be great to see.”

Also in Dyersville on Thursday, Cathi Smith, of Cascade, Iowa, said she hopes the movie site will indeed remain the same but that the new plan will be beneficial to Dyersville and the surrounding area.

“It’s a great venue, and it’s good for the economy,” she said. “It’s great for the state of Iowa.”

On social media, those opposed to the plan predominantly said they thought the development would ruin the mystique of the original field and its existence in the middle of ag land.

Rahe said she grew up on a farm outside of Dyersville and that the Field of Dreams was a big part of her life growing up.

“Obviously, there were concerns at the beginning about what they were going to do to the actual Field of Dreams portion of it, but I love the part about preserving the actual movie part of it,” she said. “That definitely has a place in everybody’s heart.”