Republicans to question Ballard’s $6M sports park

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Indianapolis City-County Council Republicans will have some questions Monday night for Mayor Greg Ballard’s staff about a $6 million sports park that’s been in the works for years without their knowledge.

“I want to see more as far as projected numbers and everything,” Minority Leader Michael McQuillen said. He requested a briefing for the Republican caucus, which will meet privately before the general council meeting at 7 p.m.

McQuillen said he's not necessarily against the idea, but he and his caucus were surprised by Ballard's announcement last week that the city was building a sports complex, to be called World Sports Park, that could host international sports such as cricket. Ballard made the announcement while visiting sister city Hyderabad, India.

The multi-use sports fields, a concession stand and other amenities will be built at the current Post Road Park with money from the Rebuild Indy fund, which was created from the sale of the city’s water utility in 2010 to Citizens Energy.

Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter told IBJ that once the complex is complete in summer or fall of 2014, it will have five athletic fields and be capable of holding events attracting as many as 10,000 spectators.

The council is in no position to halt the project, but that didn’t stop Democrats and Republicans on the Public Works Committee from expressing outrage to Public Works Director Lori Miser during an April 18 meeting.

“I’m concerned that we can’t support the parks now,” Democratic Councilor Pam Hickman said. “How are we going to maintain this?”

In recent talks about possible cuts to the current city budget, Hickman said, the parks department has discussed laying off staff, eliminating port-a-potties and downgrading maintenance.

“I’m floored by this,” she said.

Republican Councilor Ginny Cain agreed. She noted that Sahm Park has trees infected by the emerald ash borer that need to be removed.

“It goes to the maintenance of what we already have,” she said.

Cain added that she’s been on the council since 2004, and Ballard’s overseas announcement was the first she’d heard of the World Sports Park.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she said.

Republican Councilor Janice McHenry said the concept hadn’t been presented to the council’s parks committee, on which she also serves.

The council has already appropriated all the ReBuild Indy money that’s needed for 2013 projects, and the World Sports Park project was approved by the city’s Public Works Board, where the council has one representative. Miser told the council members she expects to award the construction contract soon.

Ballard’s staff is talking up the potential economic impact from attracting international cricket matches and NCAA tournaments for lacrosse and rugby.

As for the ongoing maintenance, Miser didn’t offer any projections but said the city hopes to arrange a public-private partnership that would cover such expenses.

“Ultimately, it would be a revenue generator that would generate money back to the parks department,” she said.

Ballard has wanted to make Indianapolis known for cricket since his first term in office, said David Ladd, a volunteer who carries the title of Indianapolis World Sports Park Ambassador. Ladd, a former business acquaintance of Ballard’s, said the mayor first raised the idea in 2009 while the two were at an Indianapolis Colts game. Ladd agreed to help.

He shepherded construction of the first cricket field in 2011 at Post Road Park, a 40-acre park on the southeast side. He’s also in charge of seeking sponsors or other private-sector supporters, but he said, “Those efforts haven’t even begun.”

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