Team owner pitches lawmakers on soccer stadium

Soccer team owner Ersal Ozdemir made his pitch for an $87 million, state-financed stadium to a friendly audience of lawmakers Thursday.

Several members of the House Ways and Means Committee thanked Ozdemir for investing in the North American Soccer League franchise Indy Eleven, which begins its inaugural season in April. While members had questions about the proposed financing of the 18,500-seat venue, they did not question its impact on other taxpayer-supported venues downtown.

No one from the Capital Improvement Board, which would take ownership of the proposed stadium and be responsible for its bond payments, testified at the hearing. Indy Eleven initially will play at IUPUI's Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium.

Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, said he was convinced there was plenty of support for professional soccer, and that he liked the idea of building another downtown venue.

“We really have a gap in our downtown facilities,” he said. “What we don’t have is an outdoor stadium of this size.”

Representatives of the Indiana Sports Corp., which promotes Indianapolis as a host for major sporting events, and the NCAA testified on behalf of Ozdemir’s proposal. Jeff Jarnecke, director of championships and alliances at the Indianapolis-based NCAA, said the multipurpose stadium that Ozdemir is proposing could host college-level field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and football.

“So we could wrestle Division III football away from Salem, Virginia, in that stadium that looks like it was built before the Civil War?” Committee Chairman Tim Brown asked.

Ozdemir said the venue also could host concerts, something that might put it in competition with Bankers Life Fieldhouse, said Mark Rosentraub, co-director of the Michigan Center for Sport Management at the University of Michigan, in an interview Friday.

“The Midwest right now is a very competitive market in terms of the supply of venues that can host events,” Rosentraub said. There are only so many touring acts each year, he said, and Indianapolis is competing with Louisville, Columbus and Cincinnati, all of which have venues similar to Bankers Life.

The Indiana Pacers will receive $11 million from the Capital Improvement Board this year to offset operating losses at the Fieldhouse. Another subsidy could be in the works, as the CIB is negotiating a long-term contract to keep the team in Indianapolis.

Ozdemir projects that the soccer stadium would generate $5.1 million a year in ticket-tax revenue, plus $4.1 million in sales and income taxes. He’s asking the Legislature to allow for the capture of $5 million of that revenue—money that wouldn't be generated if there were no soccer team—to back the stadium's bond payments.

The committee didn’t take a vote, but the proposal will be up for discussion again next week. Brown is looking to amend it to Senate Bill 308, which deals with Allen County’s professional sports development area.

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