City tries to raise cash by privatizing operations

December 26, 2009

In 2009, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard pulled out his predecessor Steve Goldsmith’s Republican playbook and began exploring a host of potential privatization proposals in an effort to save money.

Ballard issued a series of open requests to businesses asking for their best ideas about how to operate and, in some cases, redevelop all sorts of city assets and services.


Perhaps the biggest was professional sports stadium and convention center management. Local and national companies are vying for the opportunity to take over operation of Lucas Oil Stadium, the expanded Indiana Convention Center and, perhaps, Conseco Fieldhouse if the Indiana Pacers consent.

Global relationships are the main currency major stadium management firms can carry to the table in Indianapolis. With contacts throughout the entertainment industry and the mass buying power that comes from running many facilities, they can negotiate bargains when booking talent. They can also increase stadium revenue by attracting new major ticketed events to Indianapolis, from pop-superstar concerts to monster truck events.

Sports business experts consistently point to three companies as the likeliest bidders for Indianapolis stadium management. Two are based in Philadelphia: SMG, which already manages five NFL stadiums, and Global Spectrum, which handles one. The third, AEG, is Los Angeles based and has no NFL facilities.

Filling Lucas Oil Stadium more frequently when the Colts aren’t playing is a key part of the plan. So are expense reductions, thanks to mass purchasing, which could cover anything from hot dogs to crowd control to janitorial services. The public will find out what’s under consideration in January, when Ballard releases the business proposals.

Ballard also has solicited privatization pitches for water and sewer utilities, golf courses, parking meters and downtown’s City Market. Ballard hopes a business will redevelop the historic venue’s two underused wings, perhaps with a fitness center on one side and a performing arts facility on the other. The city is even exploring selling naming rights of its assets in exchange for goods or services.•





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