Track, tennis venue at IUPUI eyed for demolition

December 22, 2008
Long-range plans for IUPUI unveiled this month call for the demolition of the Michael A. Carroll Track & Field Stadium and Indianapolis Tennis Center, raising questions about the future of sporting events held at those venues that have generated tens of millions of dollars in economic activity for the city.

Plans also call for the preservation of the natatorium, which needs repairs after hosting numerous world-class swimming events since it was built in 1982, and the construction of a 6,000-seat convocation center and basketball arena.

IUPUI's recently unveiled 20-year master plan calls for the track stadium to give way initially to green space that will help connect the campus to prime real estate along White River. Later phases call for mixed-use development, perhaps including a grocery store and other retail outlets along with condos and other housing units with views overlooking the Indianapolis Zoo, White River and downtown.

IUPUI officials said they haven't pinpointed dates for specific changes, but they said significant campus modifications could start within a few years.

There's a possibility the track — with an artificial turf in the infield — could remain as an amenity for the residential development, IUPUI officials said. But the stadium itself will almost certainly be demolished or dramatically downsized.

The track, which was built in 1982 along with the natatorium as part of a movement to make Indianapolis the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World," has been host to national championships, Olympic Trials and other world-class events. Several world records have been set there by such athletes as Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith Joyner.

"It's difficult to get past the emotional part of this," said Indiana Sports Corp. President Susan Williams. "The history there is just so rich."

But in the end, the broad swath of real estate along New York Street the track and adjacent softball fields sit on is simply too valuable for a facility with such limited use, IUPUI officials said. IUPUI doesn't even have a track team, or any plans to start one.

On the eastern edge of campus, the tennis center — including the stadium court and indoor and outdoor courts — would be demolished to make room for a performing arts center and another building that would house a 6,000-seat convocation center and basketball arena.

IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz and his top lieutenants will meet in early January with JJR, the planning division of Detroit-based architecture firm SmithGroup that was hired to draft the master plan. At that meeting they'll further discuss and formalize the plan in anticipation of presenting it to the school's trustees in February.

"We've encouraged people to give us input," Bantz said. "We want this to be an open process."

The university held public meetings on the plan Dec. 11 and 12, and Bantz said about 300 people attended.

"We've gotten a largely positive response," he said.

Local tennis and track and field officials are still grappling with the ramifications of the announcements.

Indianapolis Tennis Championships Director Kevin Martin promised the tournament would continue despite the university's plans.

"We're still digesting the intentions and the timing of the intentions," Martin said. "We've been exploring other options ... in the event we don't have the right opportunities at some point at IUPUI."

One thing is certain, Martin said. The Indianapolis Tennis Championships will be held at the facility on the IUPUI campus in 2009. Beyond that, neither school nor tournament officials would say where the tournament will be held.

Tourism experts estimated the local ATP tournament formerly known as the RCA Championships has an annual economic impact of about $9 million.

"This goes way beyond tennis," said Mark Saunders, executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association's Midwest Section, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. "There's a lot of economic impact to these facilities that affect the entire downtown and broader community. This plan is disconcerting to me."

Losing the tennis center could present challenges beyond finding a new venue for the tournament. The USTA and other tennis groups use the indoor and outdoor courts for training camps, youth development clinics and various lesser-known tournaments.

"If that facility goes away, and the city or some other entity doesn't step forward to build another tennis stadium, a lot of economic impact is going to vanish from this city forever," Saunders said.

The plan calls for building the convocation center/basketball arena where many of the outdoor courts are now. The demolition of the four indoor courts plus some of the more easterly outdoor courts would make room for green space, and the stadium court would be demolished to make room for a performing arts center.

Bantz said the university simply has no use for the tennis facility. In addition, university officials said, it needs $8 million to $12 million in repairs and upgrades just to remain viable for the ATP tournament.

"We've been pretty straightforward with the tennis folks," Bantz said. "That's why we're on a year-to-year lease. We just can't invest in that facility. We all knew the tennis center was not going to be there in 20 years unless someone puts a lot of money into it. Our students never use it."

While local tennis officials seemed to have some advance notice of the plans, officials for locally based USA Track & Field were caught more off guard.

"I was surprised and am still awaiting official notification," said USATF CEO Doug Logan. "I was really disappointed we weren't notified or consulted in some way by the university. We have a limited number of venues we can hold our events in, and the track and field stadium at IUPUI is one of the best."

Logan said the stadium is still actively used for dozens of community events each year, and for world-class events. Carroll Stadium hosted the 2006 and 2007 U.S. National Championships, which combined had a $10 million economic impact according to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.

ISC's Williams said no one from her organization was consulted on the plans.

"It's a surprise because the track and field stadium in particular was one of the pillars that the sports movement in this town was built on," she said.

There has been IUPUI-owned land identified along Indiana Avenue, north of Fall Creek, for the possible construction of outdoor tennis courts and softball diamonds, but if the track stadium goes away, there are no plans to constuct a new one on campus.

"From a sports perspective, the loss of this track with no viable replacement is a great loss," said Greg Harger, coach and director of the Indiana Invaders, a local track club composed of Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. "This city is known as the home of one of the five best tracks in the country. I hope this loss isn't the beginning of the end of this city's reputation as a sports capital."
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