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CIB failure isn't an option

February 9, 2009

These are scary times for the Capital Improvement Board, the entity that owns the city's major sports venues and the expanding, and increasingly vital, Indiana Convention Center. Saddled with the prospect of a $50 million shortfall in the next few years, CIB is scrambling for a plan to stay solvent.

The temptation to lay blame for CIB's predicament will be too much for some to resist, and we understand that finger-pointing is bound to take place in the messy process of coming up with a solution. That's fine as long as the animosity doesn't result in failure.

Ultimately, we're all in this together. No one wins if the city's landmark sports venues go dark. That includes all taxpayers, even those who don't attend events at Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse or the Indiana Convention Center. The city's marquee public venues provide economic benefits that touch everyone and, like it or not, millions of our tax dollars are already invested in these facilities.

That's not to say everyone should pay for a bailout. Of the numerous ideas on the table for closing CIB's revenue gap, those that would affect all taxpayers by diverting money from other government needs are the least palatable, especially as both the city and state face ominous revenue shortfalls. Raising taxes on tickets and other items purchased by those who receive a direct benefit seems like the lesser of all evils. There are sure to be objections, but those at the bargaining table need to consider whether a few extra dollars per ticket would really put a damper on sales.

The cooperation needed to get us out of this mess doesn't begin and end with legislators, other elected officials or their appointees. The city's professional sports franchises, which have long relied on public subsidies, must also make sacrifices.

The public needs to know that the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers are at least considering how they can contribute to a solution that will put CIB in the black. In the case of the Colts, in particular, that means offering some flexibility regarding the sweetheart deal that resulted in the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Pacers' position seems more precarious. According to team officials the team has lost money 25 of the last 27 years. Part of the problem is that Indianapolis is a small market with fewer opportunities for revenue. And unlike the NFL, the NBA doesn't spread the wealth among its teams. But that doesn't explain why Conseco Fieldhouse, which the Pacers control, has been such a money loser. The public deserves a thorough explanation of why the concerts and other events the venue hosts haven't made money. The Pacers shouldn't get an operating subsidy without giving a detailed account of what went wrong.

The timing of this crisis couldn't be worse, but a remedy can't wait. Everyone who cares about protecting the giant investment that's already been made needs to come together to forge a CIB rescue.
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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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