EDITORIAL: Fieldhouse lid cracking open

April 19, 2014

It’s a solid start.

After years of insisting that it cannot make ends meet running Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and receiving millions of taxpayer dollars to ease the pain, Pacers Sports & Entertainment has agreed to open its books—somewhat—to city officials, and to the rest of us.

As part of the 10-year, $160 million financial aid package the city’s Capital Improvement Board approved April 14, PS&E agreed to report to CIB quarterly, through a new management entity, all non-basketball revenue and expenses related to operating the fieldhouse. A clause in the 128-page contract says the unaudited quarterly reports must also “be open and available to the general public.”

This is a sea change from the secrecy with which the Pacers organization has run the tax-supported fieldhouse since the $183 million city-owned facility opened in 1999.

PS&E President Jim Morris has said the fieldhouse provides the organization $5 million to $6 million a year in revenue not related to Pacers or Fever games, but the Pacers have never detailed that revenue, nor shown why that’s not been enough money to keep PS&E out of the red every year but one since the venue’s opening.

Yet, the CIB has come to the Pacers’ rescue with millions of taxpayer dollars in recent years. In a 2010 contract, CIB agreed to give the Pacers $33.5 million over three seasons, specifically to cover operational losses. Two years later, CIB extended that contract for another year and gave the Pacers $10 million more.

The newest arrangement promises at least $10.8 million annually for “operating reimbursements,” plus a total of $33.5 million for capital improvements.

But this time, PS&E will have to reveal the money going in and out, or at least money not related to the Pacers and Fever teams. The new agreement continues to consider the basketball operations proprietary information of a privately owned company.

CIB President Ann Lathrop has said the city pressed Pacers officials for the disclosure clause, in order “to usher in a new era of transparency.”

The attitude is admirable, but a contract is only as good as its execution. We urge CIB to walk its talk, to hold the Pacers to this important component of a contract whose ink is still drying. If it does, the public, going forward, will have better insight into whether the deal is good for both the Pacers organization and taxpayers.•


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