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Water bowl put on auction block

MUNCIE - A well-known summer-recreation site operating since 1957 will be sold at auction next month.

Don and Barbara Irving's nine-acre Water Bowl and 160 surrounding acres are being sold because of the couple's failing health.

For nearly six decades, the site has been a hub for swimming, fishing, diving, water skiing, camping, picnicking, pedal boating, cross country running and other outdoor pursuits.

The auction, on May 12, is revealing an obscure fact about the property: It's zoned for intense industrial use.

"I've had a heart attack and my wife's had a heart attack," Don Irving said. "My health is shot and her health is shot. Our kids can't run it because it's open only four months of the year. What are they supposed to do the other eight months to make a living?"

Six tracts will be sold during the auction at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, including 21 acres containing the Water Bowl and its generous beach front, beach house and concession stand; 77 acres of farm ground; 16 acres of woods; a 20-acre lake that has been used by the Muncie Ski Club, and more than 18 acres of rolling grassland.

"There's a lot of history in it for sure," said Mark Smithson, a manager for Schrader Real Estate and Auction Co. "They had crowds of people out there who would go swimming all day. They had concerts out there, company picnics, union gatherings. What makes it interesting is so many people have been out there for different reasons and are aware of the property."

In 1973, Delaware County Commissioners adopted a new comprehensive zoning ordinance that placed nearly all of the Water Bowl site in the intense industrial zone, said Kimberly Cuthbertson, a secretary at the city-county plan commission. The property lies along Ind. 3 near the Muncie Bypass.

Permitted uses in the intense industrial zone include just about anything, such as petroleum storage, chemical manufacturing, foundries, truck terminals, blast furnaces, explosives manufacturing, utilities, towers, warehouses, electroplating, tool and die shops, fat rendering, coke ovens and slaughtering.

"It could become an industrial site if the economy was such that the demand was there," Smithson told The Star Press. "It certainly presents an opportunity, because you don't have to have anything re-zoned. But I don't know if the demand is there."
'No government subsidy'

The Water Bowl's popularity was being called into question as long ago as 1995, when The Muncie Evening Press published an article under the headline, "Is sun setting on the Water Bowl?"

"It's really tough to market it," Dave Irving was quoted as saying in March of 1995. "Probably, eventually, we'll sell it in lots, or somebody could buy the whole place and develop it."

A year earlier, Irving had booked an appearance at the Water Bowl by War, a California funk band that produced hits including "Spill the Wine" and "Why Can't We Be Friends?" in the 1970s. Only a few hundred people attended the concert for which Irving was still paying off the bills half a year later.

When the Water Bowl opened in a former gravel pit 57 years ago, it didn't have as much competition. "Now people go to the lakes or they have their own swimming pools," Irving said in the 1995 interview. His mother, Barbara, added: "We're busy in June and July. But the Augusts have been getting slower as schools start classes earlier than they did when hundreds flocked to the beach until Labor Day."

According to the Water Bowl's Facebook page, the gate fee in 2013 was $7 a person for ages 13 and older, $4 for ages 5-12 and $2 for kids youger than 5.

"People who say that (price) is terrible, I tell them to buy insurance," Don Irving said on Wednesday. "All of this insurance went sky high. That's the problem. It also takes money to keep the place up."

He added: "I don't get no subsidy, either. Tuhey Pool and the (Prairie Creek) Reservoir, that's all government subsidy. Most of these parks are run by the government. Individuals like me can't keep things rolling."

The loss of manufacturing jobs also hurt business.

"All the big factories in Muncie all had picnics out there," Irving said. "We don't have them no more. No more Ball Corp., no more Chevy, no more Delco. That's all gone."

Written by
Seth Slabaugh
Muncie Star Press
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