CIB can’t count on mall funders

The Capital Improvement Board, short of cash and doing whatever it can to remain solvent, is considering asking a group of original investors in Circle Centre mall to forgive $34 million they loaned the city toward the construction of Conseco Fieldhouse back in 1997.

Fair enough. The companies that invested demonstrated they were civic-minded when they agreed to put money into the mall in the first place and again when they agreed to divert returns to the fieldhouse. So it makes sense they’d be willing to help CIB in its hour of need.

Except that many of the companies have changed hands in the years since. Ten years ago, JP Morgan Chase was Bank One, for example. IPALCO hadn’t been purchased by AES, and Virginia-based Gannett Co. hadn’t yet scooped up The Indianapolis Star.

Given these transitions and others that have occurred, it wouldn’t be a bit surprising if investors decided to tell CIB, "no chance." The companies aren’t as closely tied to Indianapolis as they once were, after all, and a deep recession doesn’t make this a particularly good time to ask for favors. Even Richard Wood, the former CEO of Eli Lilly and Co. who rallied corporate support for the mall back in the early 1990s, is skeptical that the investors will be—or should be—so generous.

If CIB comes, hat in hand, looking for help, we trust the investing companies will carefully weigh the benefits they’ve derived from the city and its thriving downtown before delivering an answer.

As for CIB, we appreciate that it’s leaving no stone unturned in its quest to erase a budget deficit caused by higher operating costs for Lucas Oil Stadium and a host of other factors. But we won’t blame the investors if they begin to feel as though they’re being taken advantage of. The same goes for taxpayers, who, barring a miracle, seem sure to become involved in the CIB bailout at some level.

CIB—and by extension the city—risks going to the well one too many times.

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