September 26, 2013

Around Iowa, Carroll is known for a host of attributes.

We have strong public and private high schools, a separating quality.

We're known as a clean town, one without a "bad neighborhood."

We're admired as progressive, always taking on projects and recruiting businesses many outside observers would expect to see in larger cities. Former Mayor Ed Smith once called Carroll a suburb that has no need for the associated big city.

And, of course, we are a basketball town. Adam Haluska and Nick Nurse are well-known around the Hawkeye State.

It's important to consider our reputation in evaluating the smart, forward-looking plan to re-purpose the old tennis courts in Graham Park into a basketball complex with two regulation-sized courts.

The former tennis courts, still fenced in and located on the west side of the park, became obsolete when a new six-court tennis complex opened in the park in late 2012.

Dr. Brian Fleshner, Sean Haluska, Pat Macke, Austin Scott and Clay Netusil - Carroll professionals who are basketball enthusiasts - have presented a thorough plan to bring a premium outdoor basketball facility to Graham Park. The estimated price tag: $95,250. The group is optimistic about local, private fundraising, too.

The plan stands on its own merits even if evaluated in just the limited context of a local recreational amenity.

But Macke, a former realtor who played a key role in luring businesses like Walgreens to Carroll, raised a game-changing point in the Carroll City Council chambers Monday night.

The courts must be seen as a driver of economic development.

Carroll is the middle of something of a reverse Bermuda Triangle. We're positioned between Omaha/Council Bluffs and Des Moines and Sioux City. And we're a regional trade hub for smaller cities in a 40-mile-plus radius.

With the success of Carroll Chamber-sponsored basketball tournaments, the camps run here by Carroll native and Pella resident Doug Diers and the strong local adult pick-up games at the Recreation Center, there's evidence to embrace Macke's vision of Carroll as a popular basketball tournament venue.

We can draw youth and adult leagues and tournaments for classic, outdoor play, bringing players and their families to town. What's more, the games would provide entertainment for those of us who love basketball, but are more suited as spectators.

As the basketball courts' advocates and Carroll City Council considers this project, it would be wise to pursue alternate bids for bleacher seating and other fan amenities to truly brand Graham Park as a destination for hoops. We should leverage our geographic advantages and reputation as a basketball town.

In the most ambitious scenario, Carroll's Graham Park could be a rural Iowa version of Rucker Park, the iconic New York City playground known for its competitive summer leagues.