WHITING | Somebody's going to have to corral the Phillie Phanatic, the San Diego Chicken and the Suns Gorilla under one roof.
That responsibility falls to former U.S. Steel Gary Works senior manager Al Spajer, who's been named executive director of the National Mascot Hall of Fame. Spajer will be tasked with setting up and running a nonprofit that will own and operate the multimillion-dollar, 25,000-square-foot museum that's supposed to open at 119th and Front streets in downtown Whiting next year.
"I've always been passionate about sports, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that the mayor and city of Whiting have given me to lead the new NMHOF into its anticipated opening in Whiting," Spajer said.
"I'm excited to help add this project to the ever-growing list of successful development and revitalization projects that have put Whiting back on the map as a must-visit family destination in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana communities."
Spajer had been responsible for all employee relations while at Gary Works, where he also also spearheaded sports sponsorships, including the naming rights deal for the U.S. Steel Yard minor league baseball stadium in downtown Gary. The amateur hockey player recently served as the 2014 Campaign Chair for the Lake Area United Way.
In his new role, he'll oversee all elements of the planned mascot entertainment center in Whiting, including designing, fundraising and staffing.
"We could not be more thrilled to welcome Al to the NMHOF team," Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura said. "We are confident that Al will bring his trademark energy and passion to this project and help lead the NMHOF to a successful grand opening."
The Mascot Hall of Fame is currently online-only, but it aims to open a state-of-the-art brick-and-mortar museum that would feature exhibits, events and family activities year-round.
Photos and artifacts would show how mascots like Benny the Bull and the Valpo Crusader have come to play such a prominent role in collegiate and professional sports.