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It’s game on in downtown Beaver Dam, where a local business is launching an effort to repurpose a vacant bank into an esports facility.
The sale of the old Chase building on Spring Street hasn’t been finalized yet, but technology services firm Inter-Quest has big plans. It’s proposed remodeling the building for virtual gaming to serve esports teams at schools countywide and to host public tournaments.
“We’re opening a fun and safe facility, where you can just enjoy yourself. We’ll have people there that know how to do these things, so they can show you,” CEO of Inter-Quest Bill Schwartz said. “With some of these tournaments, you’re basically playing video games for money.”
Built in 1961, the bank was purchased by a Texas-based company late last year for $130,000 from a Wisconsin banking corporation. The Chase branch shut down, and the building has been on the market since.
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Real estate agent and City Council President Mike Wissel confirmed to the Daily Citizen that the sale to the property management company Inter-Quest is working with has been pending for over a month. The expected closing date is April 28.
However, the sale hinges on key financial support from the city.
Several environmental concerns turned up during the property’s previous sale. A survey showed signs of contamination in the ground, possibly caused by a machine shop that was located there in the early 1900s. Banks are unlikely to finance a building purchase on contaminated ground, so Inter-Quest would have to pay for additional surveys and possible intervention.
Those processes can be pricey and could make the project financially impossible without government assistance.
Beaver Dam is planning to allocate $25,000 of its Downtown Facade Improvement Program Fund toward the project, as well as an additional $100,000 in federal COVID-19-related funds. The city has already spent $632,300 of the federal funds, of which $350,000 has been committed to the facade improvement program.
The city could seek reimbursement in the form of state grants after the process is complete.
“Environmental concerns at the property are kind of an unknown, so the city is acting as a backstop, if you will, should environmental remediation be necessary,” City Administrator Nathaniel Thiel explained. “We’re trying to clean up a storefront and clean up a property, too.”
The City Council is set to vote on whether it will provide the funds at its Tuesday meeting.
If all goes according to plan, the facility could be operational by this fall. It would be able to safely open while environmental work is still underway.
Schwartz said that the company’s expansion into esports just made sense. It has sold servers, managed hardware and dealt in web development since 1997. The company started designing gaming computers just two years later.
After chatting with area schools that the company currently works with, Schwartz realized there was a “dramatic” need for Inter-Quest’s expertise as administrations struggle to build out their esports programs.
Schools are beginning to capitalize on the esports boom as more colleges begin to offer scholarships and training to prospective students.
“What do you need for equipment? How do you do it? How do you manage tournaments? I took that as, we need to do something to help them out,” Schwartz said.
Inter-Quest plans on servicing schools countywide and beyond, shipping out gaming kits and tournament materials. It will also host tournaments, have retail space and offer hourly rentals on its equipment to the public.
“Our hope is, this fall, to look at the sports aspect of it, and the extracurriculars. The community will be able to use a facility like this for birthday parties and to visit,” Schwartz added. “Next year, we could go directly to schools.”
While Inter-Quest’s new side business won’t be the first dedicated esports facility in Wisconsin, it certainly would be a rarity. Green Bay is home to the Edge VR Arcade & Gamers Lounge, and another facility is currently in the works in Milwaukee.
Even though the company is still waiting on the green light to finalize the building purchase, it has high hopes for its new venture. Schwartz projects that Inter-Quest could outgrow the old Chase bank within a matter of years. The company would then be on the hunt to relocate or build a brand-new facility.
Beaver Dam could be the capital of esports in Dodge County and all of southern Wisconsin.
“This is somewhat of a test facility. At this point, we’re a good trial to see where this goes,” Schwartz said.