The Indiana Pacers are an institution in this city. From the ABA glory days of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the Reggie Miller-era playoff victories, the franchise has been a source of great pride here for most of its history. It’s the professional embodiment of the state’s long love affair with basketball.
Emotion aside, the franchise has been an economic engine for downtown Indianapolis. Even doubters of the economic impact numbers the team spouts can’t deny the role the Pacers played in rescuing downtown. Without the Pacers, there would have been no Market Square Arena and probably no sports strategy as a hook for pumping life into the old city.
For all these reasons, it would be a sad day in our civic history if the Indiana Pacers packed up and left for a place with more financial firepower. But there’s a limit to how far the city should go to keep the team from leaving home.
At the very least, some transparency is in order as negotiations reach a tipping point between the NBA team and the city over how to cover the $15 million a year it costs to operate Conseco Fieldhouse.
It was just over a decade ago that the city built what is heralded as one of the finest basketball arenas in the country and turned over the keys to the Pacers, giving the franchise not just the luxury suites and other money-generating amenities it lacked at Market Square Arena, but control over the building itself. With that control came the opportunity to profit from the building’s operations.
Now we’re told the building can’t be operated profitably and that taxpayers must foot the bill to rescue the franchise and keep it here.
It’s hard to comprehend how such a fine facility can be a money loser for an organization that is allowed to operate it without a mortgage hanging over its head. The public deserves an accounting of how that can be the case. At the very least, that information must be shared with city officials. If they aren’t fully aware of the circumstances that make Conseco Fieldhouse a money loser, they shouldn’t strike a deal.
The city has faced times of crisis with both of its major professional sports teams. We hope the current one is resolved in a way that keeps the Pacers here without jeopardizing the finances of the Capital Improvement Board, which owns the city’s sports and convention facilities and has been dealing with its own money troubles even as it works to lift the Pacers franchise out of its mess.
Those who would cheer if the city walked away from the bargaining table and let the Pacers slip into history underestimate the negative consequences of losing the team and its contributions to a strong downtown. They need to remember it’s the Pacers that would be leaving, not the Fieldhouse. The building would still be here for the city to contend with, and without NBA basketball, 40-plus event dates would suddenly open up and need to be filled.
Preventing that from happening should be near the top of the city’s to-do list, right behind avoiding another deal that perpetuates the no-win situation taxpayers find themselves in today.•
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