Ottumwa SportsPlex

A graphic rendering created for the proposed Ottumwa SportsPlex project.

OTTUMWA — Brian Morgan has taken a lot of wins in his life.

The sweetest one may have come Thursday morning.

Morgan, the chair of the Southeast Iowa Sports Commission, received news the organization received a $2.5 million Destination Iowa grant to construct the indoor sports complex. The cash infusion all but ensures the project will get off the ground.

"I'm not going to lie. I almost cried when I found out," said Morgan, whose group has withstood plenty of adversity to make sure the project gets over the finish line. "When we applied for it in April 2022 and didn't get it, it really was a shot to the gut because we checked all the boxes.

"Maybe politics played a part in it, but we were given a second look."

Indeed, Morgan credited Rep. Hans Wilz, who represents Ottumwa and half of the county. Wilz delivered the message to Morgan.

"I give a lot of credit to Hans for the advocacy he did on our behalf," he said. "He realizes what this brings to the whole community."

Wilz agreed with the impact the grant will have.

"This is a huge, huge deal for Ottumwa," Wilz said in a voicemail to the Courier Thursday evening. "All the time put in by the local people, and the willingness they showed to work together, I think made this happen.

"Good things happen to good people, but it's not only making Ottumwa a better place, it's making Iowa a better place to live," he added. "I couldn't be more excited."

Morgan believed the commission now has the funds to complete the project, but "we'll have hard numbers the week after next," he said. However, he's hoping to raise perhaps another $1 million more as a contingency to offset the projected losses the complex will incur the first couple years.

"I've been up front all along that we have to run this like a business. We can't go to the city or county," he said. "This puts us around $10.5 million, but I just want that comfort that when we open those doors, it's a sure thing. We want to do this right."

He said the vetting of contractors for the complex, which will be in Sycamore Park, is about to take place. He estimated about 80% of the contractor work will be done with local labor.

"That just shows the kind of support we have, and they see that it needs done," he said. "I think we're also going to see people who weren't sure if this would get off the ground want to be be part of it and have their names involved."

The SportsPlex wasn't the only local project to receive a grant. Pioneer Ridge Nature Center also received $500,000 from Destination Iowa to triple the number campground sites, add a shower house, dump sites, etc., to improve the quality of life in that area. The county had contributed $600,000 toward the project, and it appears close to getting that project moving as well.

"That's huge for Pioneer Ridge. I will always support county conservation," said Morgan, who is also a county supervisor that voted to donate funds for the project. "The one thing I will defend is how we've spent our American Rescue Plan Act funds. Between the sportsplex, the campground project, it promotes a return on our investment.

"They have some grant opportunities, but I think this grant puts the project on the front burner," Morgan said. "Hopefully they can get that done next year."

As for the SportsPlex, Morgan's timeline is still intact, maybe even pushed up a little because of the Destination Iowa grant. His goal is to open the doors in the fall of 2024.

"The best way I can explain it to people is that I've won elections, and there's a feeling of accomplishment with that," he said. "This, though, is so different. This is what winning feels like because it is a true win for our entire area. It's so satisfying it's almost euphoric.

"We still have some work to do, but we know it's happening now," he said. "For so long I think there's been a feeling that Ottumwa's been left out. Basically we're a group of people just trying to do something good in our community."

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury


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