INDIANAPOLIS — Slipped into the most recently passed state biennial budget was $89.5 million for design and construction of a five thousand seat sports and events arena on the campus of IUPUI.
”IUPUI could use it as an arena, especially with the split as a Division One school, it would be a pretty good recruiting tool,” said State Senator Ryan Mishler, a republican from Bremen and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ”I think by building a smaller arena I think it fits a niche that we don’t have in the central part of the state.”
By the fall of 2024, IUPUI will be no more as Indiana University and Purdue University will establish their own identities on the urban campus.
IU Indianapolis will own and operate the planned arena on a seven-acre site that previously housed the Indianapolis Tennis Center, home of the defunct RCA Tennis Championships.
Mishler said the arena would host IU Indianapolis sporting and university events, though state lawmakers want to see another major tenant at the site.
”We’re not gonna do anything until there’s a tenant in place,” he said. “The process is it has to go through budget committee review to release the money but we’re not gonna review it until there’s an agreement in place with a tenant. We’re not gonna build it first and hope a tenant comes. We’re gonna wait until there’s an actual tenant agreement in place with a sizable tenant before we would move forward with it.”
In the late 1970s then-Mayor William Hudnut convinced city leaders to build the Hoosier Dome in the hopes of attracting an NFL team years before the Indianapolis Colts arrived.
The Indiana Sports Corporation traditionally takes the lead in securing sporting events for Indianapolis and the state.
”They are talking to someone,” said Mishler. “There were some potential discussions with a tenant at the time and through the last biennial budget nothing ever came about. Since then they’re speaking with another large potential tenant. If there’s an agreement reached with that tenant, then we would move forward with the arena.”
ISC President Patrick Talty said securing a major tenant beyond IU Indianapolis will take a community effort not solely based on sports.
”We’re out talking to people and if they’re interested we’ll obviously show them this space but we’re not really actively working on us securing somebody. That’s really a kind of overall community effort,” he said. ”We see this as a community asset. This arena on IUPUI campus will allow us to have another building that is usable for the community when we think of hosting events such as Final 4 using it as a practice site, looking at USA Gymnastics using it for some of their events or other NCAA championships. It really connects that side of downtown with our walkable downtown sports campus.”
For decades Indianapolis has built its reputation as an amateur sports capitol, an image that has sometimes succeeded too well.
”We’re a very busy convention town. We’re a very busy event town. We’re always challenged for space,” said Talty. “We’re always challenged to find time to fit people in so when you have another asset it just gives you the ability to think what other events can we fit into that.”
Along with sports and university events, the proposed arena could also host concerts deemed too big for the Murat Theatre, too small for Gainbridge Fieldhouse and in cold weather when the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park is closed.
”They would be able to bring some of these events that our current facilities wouldn’t fit,” said Mishler.
Officials stress that IU did not lobby for the appropriation which had its genesis in the 2021 state budget at a cost of $70 million and the University deferred comment to ISC as did the City’s Department of Metropolitan Development.
Word of the planned arena comes weeks after ground was broken for the billion dollar Eleven Park which will be home to the Indy 11 soccer team as well as a four thousand seat music and entertainment venue and during the same week the City County Council approved $625 million in financing for a new 40-story 800-room Signia by Hilton headquarters hotel connected to an expanded Indiana Convention Center and the City’s announcement of the renovation of Georgia Street as it runs between Gainbridge and the convention center to make the stretch of downtown street more pedestrian friendly in advance of upcoming major sporting events.
”We have a massive ’24. This is the next time we will have the national stage,” said Talty. “Start off with the NBA All Star Weekend and then we go into lots of college basketball in March and then of course we have the Olympic swimming trials in Lucas Oil Stadium. Nine nights of swimming on primetime coverage. Nine days of fanfest. Nine days on Georgia Street. Its gonna be quite a celebration. That first half of the year is gonna be unbelievable for Indy when you think of all the things that we’re gonna have from first and second round NCAA to NIT championships to the All Star game to swimming trials, everyone’s gonna be talking about Indy, everyone’s gonna see us on television, everyone’s gonna see that we are a great place to work, live and play.
”As we look at other cities and as we look at our competition, new facilities are being built, they’re competing hard, they want to go after these events, they’ve seen the blueprint that Indy’s put forth and they’re now copying it and so we have to stay competitive and that reinvestment in downtown, that reinvestment in our facilities and adding assets is really important to that competition piece for us.”