Lawmakers hear 4 hours testimony over sports, tourism in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– State lawmakers are considering a bill centering on sports and tourism in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, representatives on the House Ways and Means Committee heard about four hours of testimony from stakeholders for Senate Bill 7. The bill is a 25-year fiscal strategic plan for the Capital Improvement Board. The board manages Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and the convention center.

“If we don’t do something now we won’t sustain the strong economic impact that benefits the state into the future,” CIB president Melina Maniatis Kennedy told lawmakers.

The bill would support the board’s current funding mechanism and broaden its tax area through professional sports development areas to help capture revenue for its capital improvements. It would pave the way for funding mechanisms to move forward for a deal to keep the Pacers in Indianapolis, upgrade Bankers Life and construct a multipurpose soccer stadium.

“We’re only asking legislators at this point to give us three years to work out a deal with the city of Indianapolis,” Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir said.

Supporters filled the hallway outside the hearing room with the Indy Eleven logo. The deal would require the CIB sign a contract with an MLS team who would pay 20 percent of the new stadium.

“For us to be sustainable in the long term we need to secure the future of professional soccer here,” Ozdemir said.

The bill would also broaden the tax area to include the expansion of the convention center. Supporters say it’s necessary to attract and retain tourism and conventions in Indianapolis.

“Since 2014 we have heard from a growing number of our states largest conventions who have said they are literally outgrowing Indianapolis,” Chris Gahl, the senior vice president for Visit Indy, told lawmakers.

The expansion includes a ballroom, more meeting space and two new Hilton-branded hotels.

“In talking with Hilton and Kite Realty, that inevitably there will be meeting space in each of the two hotels to bolster meeting space within the entire project,” Gahl said.

The expansion has been a sticking point for some hotel operators, though.

“There’s oversupply coming, there’s not the proper infrastructure to build it and it will cost us major problems for downtown over the long term,” Dave Sibley, the regional vice president of operations for White Lodging, who operates the JW Marriott downtown, said.

Several operators echoed the concern during testimony and concerns over the voice they had during the planning process.

“We’re invested in downtown and we want the Pacers, we want to solve the problems for the groups that have outgrown this, we just think that there’s a better way to do it,” Sibley said.

Committee members did not vote on the bill today.

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