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Indy Eleven owner makes soccer stadium pitch to lawmakers

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The man who brought professional soccer to Indianapolis wants to keep professional soccer in Indianapolis and today asked state lawmakers to approve a funding formula for a $150 million 20,000 seat stadium.

Indy Eleven Owner Ersal Ozdemir told a state senate committee that if it would give the Capitol Improvement Board (CIB) the go ahead to build the stadium, he would construct a $400 million mixed use development right next door and the tax money raised by that project could pay off the CIB’s construction bonds.

“We need to have a permanent home. We are drawing 10,000 now. We strongly believe we would get over 15,000 easily,” Ozdemir said. “Without a permanent home its impossible to have a global organization and for us to have any chance to move up to the next level we have to have a soccer stadium.”

The Indy Eleven currently plays in the United Soccer League (USL) with dreams of moving up to Major League Soccer (MLS) status.

“We need a permanent home to make sure Indiana has a professional soccer team,” said Ozdemir who said he is committed to Indianapolis when asked if he might consider moving his team if a stadium is not built.

There was no opposition voiced at the hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee for the funding bill proposed by Indianapolis Republican Jack Sandlin.

Ozdemir envisions Eleven Park adjacent to the soccer stadium with 150,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail, 600 apartment units and a 200-room boutique hotel.

A special taxing district to encompass the footprint of the development and the stadium would capture all taxes on money spent there and return those revenues to the CIB, which would own the stadium.

Ozdemir has pledged to pay for upkeep and construction cost overruns.

“This is not a stadium anymore. It is a transformational project, so its best to make sure it’s the right place so we will have not only a large impact where we are but also great impact for the neighborhood we’re gonna be in,” said the owner. “Downtown is the logical site. A lot of our sports teams are based here. Indianapolis is a sport capital.”

Ozdemir said he won’t start serious site consideration until the funding plan is set.

The site of the now-shuttered Broad Ripple High School has been considered as has the vicinity near 38th Street and Lafayette Road and vast acres of empty lots south of Lucas Oil Stadium approaching the banks of the White River.

“Wherever we are gonna go it will have a major impact on the neighborhood and we will not go to an area that the neighborhood doesn’t want it,” said Ozdemir, who won’t build the development without the stadium centerpiece.  “We will not invest this much in these sites we’re looking at without a soccer stadium.”

Fans who attended a statehouse rally after the hearing said a soccer-exclusive stadium would boost the sport’s popularity in central Indiana.

“I think it would make more people come to the games just because it would be easier to have games instead of having to change their schedule for the Colts and have more tourists come out,” said Andrew Meyer, a youth soccer player from Carmel.

“With soccer you get a specific atmosphere especially with a supporters group like ours or other supporters groups you get more than what you would just sitting down at a basketball game or a football game,” said Tony Laurenzana who travels the Midwest to watch Indy Eleven play on the road. “We’ll actually be able to kind of add our own flair to just the entire area so its gonna feel more like ours than anyone else’s.”

Sandlin’s bill would give General Assembly blessing to the City County Council and the CIB to craft the funding proposal without additional appropriation of state funds.

Final debate on the bill has been put off until February 21st when lawmakers will consider a proposal to provide the CIB with $8 million per year until 2041 to fund improvements to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and the Indiana Convention Center and attach Sandlin’s proposal to the main legislation.

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