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Westfield OKs publicly funded facility lease

October 28, 2014

Westfield’s $45 million-plus bet on youth sports got bigger Monday, when its City Council approved a publicly funded lease to build a $25 million indoor soccer facility at its Grand Park Sports Campus.

Supporters say the 371,000-square-foot building is a much-needed complement to Grand Park, making it more of a year-round draw and increasing its appeal to the businesses Westfield is looking to attract.

As IBJ reported last week, private developer Holladay Properties plans to finance and build the project and then lease it to the city, which will sublease the space to several tenants. The three agreements being finalized this week will produce more than enough revenue to cover expected expenses, Deputy Mayor Todd Burtron told the council.

But critics call the arrangement an unnecessary risk.

“It’s an unfunded liability,” Westfield resident Jeff Harpe said during a 54-minute public hearing before Monday’s vote. “It’s funded by hope—hope people come, hope developers come.”

Years in the making, Grand Park is an economic-development play for Westfield. The potential win: Businesses jockeying to serve the million-plus visitors expected to spend time each year at the sprawling complex’s 26 ball diamonds, 31 multiuse fields or 10 miles of trails.

Council member Cindy Spoljaric, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said she is concerned about the city's spending more on Grand Park without waiting to see if the private sector would be willing to go it alone.

“I want to see the facility built,” she said before the vote. “But I want to see it built privately.”

When the indoor facility was announced in June, it was described as a private project developed in “partnership” with the city. Westfield's financial involvement in the deal was not widely known until this month.

Former council member Ron Thomas asked the elected body to delay its vote to give residents the chance to review the proposal and related financials. He also urged the city to open Grand Park’s books to the public.

“I think that’s fair,” he said. “It is our money.”

The loudest voices at Monday’s hearing belonged to supporters from the local soccer community—everyone from soccer dads to Indiana Soccer Association executives.

Officials at Indiana Sports Properties, which manages outdoor field operations at Grand Park, assured the council and the public that demand for a high-quality indoor offering is high.

The three-field arena on the drawing board could accommodate soccer and other field sports during cold-weather months and “non-sport” activities other times of the year, said Don Rawson, Indiana Sports Properties’ president and CEO.

Among the possible uses: marching-band performances, conventions, graduations, proms and trade shows.

“We will be the organization responsible for bringing teams and bodies to the facility,” said Alan Brown, a board member for both Indiana Sports Properties and Indiana Soccer. “This is a huge leap forward for us. But we came to the unanimous conclusion that it can be done, it will be done, and it will be a great success financially.”

Rawson said the Indy Eleven pro soccer team also has expressed interest in using the indoor fields.

Indiana Soccer board President Murray Clark cut straight to the bottom line.

“This indoor facility … rounds out the Grand Park venue, providing the city and its citizens the greatest opportunity to realize maximum economic development return on its investment,” he told the council.

The Westfield Chamber of Commerce’s board also expressed its support for the project.

Hamilton County Tourism chief Brenda Myers said Grand Park already has made a noticeable impact, contributing to a 9-percent increase in hotel demand so far this year. With January, February and March already the weakest months of the year, there’s nowhere to go but up.

“A robust year-round schedule will definitely expand the market opportunities,” she said.

Westfield farmer Craig Wood provided the evening’s comic relief, taking to the microphone to express his support for the project. No wonder: He and his wife, Sandra, own the property along 191st Street where the indoor facility will be built.

But he also lives down the road, so he will have to look at and drive by the building every day. Wood said it has been exciting to see Grand Park come to life on his former farmland.

As for who pays for the indoor arena, he doesn’t really care—as long as the check is good.

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