IN Focus: Pacers, city reach deal to keep team in Indy, new hotels uncertain

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Pacers and the city agreed to a $360-million deal to keep the team in Indianapolis for 25 more years.

The Marion County Capital Improvement Board (CIB) owns the city’s professional sports stadiums. They voted unanimously in favor of the deal Friday morning.

The agreement includes $360 million for capital improvements comprised of an estimated $270 million from state and CIB sources and $65 million of private investment from Pacers Sports & Entertainment, including real estate purchases needed to construct an outdoor public plaza. The city is also contributing $25 million for public infrastructure needs.

Nothing is set in stone yet. The terms of the deal are contingent on the Indiana General Assembly finding money to pay for the majority of that the deal.

The new agreement will fund operating expenses, technology improvements, and capital projects, including a new outdoor plaza and social gathering areas. As part of the deal there will be no new taxes or fees.

“The Pacers have a long history in downtown Indianapolis, from the move to Market Square Arena in 1974 to the opening of Bankers Life Fieldhouse 25 years later. Today we are pleased to announce the Pacers will stay in Indiana where they belong for at least another 25 years,” said Melina Kennedy, President of the Capital Improvement Board of Managers.

According to a study by the IU Public Policy Institute, the economic impact of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, including events at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, totaled $370 million in 2018.

Pacers Sports & Entertainment is also responsible for more than 4,000 jobs resulting in $152 million in annual wages.

In 2017, Bankers Life Fieldhouse hosted 550-plus sporting and non-sporting events that generated 15 million in annual taxes.

There are also plans for a year-round public outdoor plaza, social gathering areas, and upgraded views.

Interior renderings show the removal of the top eight rows of the upper seating area to improve the fan experience and enhance views of the arena and the city. Other renderings showed an expanded entry pavilion and concourse that could host more community events.

In addition to the changes to the footprint of the building, a new outdoor plaza is planned for public use all year long. The area can host events, including outdoor basketball games, farmers markets, and rental events. In the winter, Pacers Sports & Entertainment envisions an outdoor skating rink that would be larger than the iconic Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

While the detailed project timelines have not been finalized, construction will not interfere with the 2021 NBA

All-Star Game or the Indiana Pacers home basketball games. Because the Indiana Fever play during the summer, home games will be played elsewhere during the 2020 and 2021 seasons and part of the 2022 season.

Meantime, the Indy Eleven’s prospects for a new stadium got a boost Monday when lawmakers unanimously approved changes to a major funding bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced an amended version of Senate Bill 7, which would allow the Indy Eleven to negotiate a deal for a new soccer stadium.

The original version allowed the team to build the stadium if it became part of Major League Soccer. The amended version only requires the Indy Eleven to be “a professional soccer team”—which it already is as part of the United Soccer League.

Tim Phelps, a spokesman for Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir, issued a statement about Monday’s vote:

“Eleven Park commends the Ways and Means Committee and Co-Chairman Todd Huston for unanimously advancing Senate Bill 7 in a bipartisan fashion. The bill, which includes enabling language for Eleven Park, will help secure a permanent home for Indy Eleven Professional Soccer and the world’s most popular sport in Indiana, with no new taxes and no appropriations from city or state governments.

“Today’s vote is just the latest step in the legislative process and is a result of all sides working together to achieve a positive result. We will continue to work directly with legislators and all stakeholders as Senate Bill 7 continues to move through the Statehouse.”

Indy Eleven team President and CEO, Greg Stremlaw, said excitement is building at the prospect of having a new stadium facility.

“The ability to set our own schedule, natural grass, playing in a soccer specific state of the art world class facility.  That’s very meaningful to our players, our coaches, our fans and of course our front office.

The amended bill passed 23-0 and was also approved by the full House of Representatives later in the week.

The measure would increase tax dollars for Indy sports and tourism by sending more tax dollars to the Capital Improvement Board an an upward sliding scale.  The CIB could collect up to $9 million in additional money in 2022, up to $12 million in 2023, up to $16 million from 2024 to 2033 and up to $18 million from 2034 to 2041.

It also calls for upgrades to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

The amendment also says the CIB can not use tax dollars to help build two new hotels at Pan Am Plaza as part of the Convention Center expansion.  It also says the CIB can not collect tax revenues from the new hotels for use on other projects.  Instead, the CIB will collect tax money from existing hotels in the downtown area.

Representatives of the hotel industry have criticized the bill, saying two new hotels would over-saturate the downtown hospitality market.  A group of downtown hotel owners applauded the amendment passed in the committee.

Jim Dora, President and CEO of General Hotels Corporation, released this statement:

“SB 7, as amended today, is a step forward and helps safeguard tax dollars from subsidizing a reckless flood of new downtown hotel rooms – without substantial and meaningful increased demand – in less than five years.”

Representatives from the CIB, including president Melina Kennedy maintain there is a need for more hotels and convention space in the downtown area.

“Some of our largest convention customers, such as Gen Con, FFA and others that bring 60,000 and more people per convention have told us very pointedly we do need more hotel rooms and we do need more convention space,” Kennedy said.

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Office released a statement through spokeswoman Taylor Schaffer:

“Today’s display of unanimous support for Senate Bill 7 is another productive step forward toward a taxpayer-friendly vision for long-term funding of these critical assets. The Capital Improvement Board’s facilities are an economic engine for our city and our state, and Mayor Joe Hogsett applauds the continued work of the Indiana General Assembly as we move closer to preserving the progress we’ve made over the last five decades without a single tax or fee increase on Hoosier taxpayers.”

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