CIB, Pacers discussing three-year deal

June 17, 2010

Talks between the city’s Capital Improvement Board and the Indiana Pacers to renegotiate the team’s lease for the city-owned Conseco Fieldhouse have shifted toward hammering out a short-term deal.

Mayor Greg Ballard and CIB member Paul Okeson this week confirmed there’s been talk of a three-year deal with the operating costs retroactive for the Pacers’ 2009-10 fiscal year.

The Pacers current lease runs through 2019, but the team recently asked for $15 million annually to offset Conseco Fieldhouse operating expenses, which they peg at $18 million.

Ballard told WTHR-TV Channel 13 this week that city officials might wait until the National Basketball Association and NBA Players Association work out a new collective bargaining agreement before signing the Pacers to a long-term lease.

The collective bargaining agreement expires in June 2011, and the league’s owners and players union are just beginning negotiations. So far those talks have been somewhat contentious.

NBA Commissioner David Stern recently told reporters that the league’s teams cumulatively lost $400 million this year. NBA Players Association boss Billy Hunter this month called that claim “baloney.”

Pacers officials have said the team lost about $30 million in each of the last two years and can no longer afford to pay for Fieldhouse operating expenses.

Okeson, who serves as Ballard’s point person on negotiations with the Pacers, called the possible short-term agreement “a deal point up for discussion.”

Sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Pacers officials prefer a longer-term deal. Pacers officials did not respond to requests for an interview about the lease negotations.

The pending collective bargaining agreement between NBA players and owners is only one factor in why the CIB thinks a short-term, stop-gap measure may be the best approach, Okeson said.

Okeson added that the unstable economy and the ongoing Indiana Convention Center expansion are other reasons CIB members are interested at looking at a short-term deal.

“With some of the unknown variables we’re dealing with right now, there are good reasons to consider a short-term deal,” Okeson said.

While negotiating another agreement in two years isn’t a pleasant scenario, Okeson said at that time “we can make a much more informed decision than we can today.”

Okeson said he and CIB President Ann Lathrop are talking with Pacers executives two or three times a week to try to get a deal done. Pacers officials hope to have a deal completed by June 30, which marks the end of their fiscal year.

“These aren’t hostile negotiations,” Okeson said. “These are civic, civil-minded negotiations.”

Still, Okeson said, there’s more to consider than merely the Pacers’ wants and needs.

“We want to protect the economic value that this team brings our city,” Okeson said. “But, at the same time, we want to sign a deal that is prudent, and accountable to the taxpayers.”


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