Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay says the positions taken by Indiana lawmakers and local officials over a $47 million shortfall at the city’s stadium agency could hurt attempts to recruit new businesses to the city and state. He said he wasn’t open to renegotiations.
Irsay, talking to reporters during a break from the NFL draft Saturday, repeatedly expressed frustration at legislative attempts seeking $5 million from the Colts to help close the deficit at the Capital Improvement Board, which operates Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center and Conseco Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers.
“What business would come in and negotiate with the city and the state for three or four years and get all the details ironed out, and then three or four months after you’re in the building have them say that doesn’t really matter, and then take your brand and rake it over the coals,” Irsay said.
The current proposal to close the deficit includes $5 million each from the Colts and Pacers, creating a local alcohol tax, raising the city’s hotel and car-rental taxes as well as the ticket tax. It also would expand the sports development area to include a new downtown hotel.
Irsay called the ticket tax, which he said would jump from 6 to 10 percent, excessively high for one of the NFL’s smallest markets. He also said the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and the city’s Triple-A minor-league baseball team, the Indianapolis Indians, aren’t happy either.
What really angers Irsay, though, is the $5 million request and the way his team has been portrayed publicly.
Irsay contributed $100 million to building the Colts’ new $720 million stadium, then pitched in another $10 million, he said, to help with cost overruns. On Thursday, Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), confirmed that the Colts total was more than $100 million.
But in the 30-year contract that the Colts signed, the CIB took over the operating costs of the stadium. The Colts pay $250,000 per year to use the stadium. The Pacers, who pay some operating costs for Conseco, are trying to renegotiate with the city because they say they’ve lost money for most of the decade.
“This is about a Pacers renegotiation,” Irsay said. “They’ve done a lot for the community and I’m friends with Herb Simon, but somehow we’ve brought into this and I don’t understand why. We put $100 million into the stadium and another $10 million for cost overruns and nobody else put in a penny. Then people say, ‘Have they lived up to the lease? Have they lived up to their word?’
“I’m not going to renegotiate the lease. I’ve said it before. If people think I want to negotiate a lease for a quarter of my life, they’re crazy,” Irsay said.
While the Colts did pay more than $100 million for the new stadium, they received $48 million from the city for breaking the lease at the RCA Dome. They also got $121 million in a naming-rights deal for the stadium. In addition, they receive about $41 million in annual stadium revenue, plus about $3.5 million for non-game events.
Indiana legislative leaders and Gov. Mitch Daniels have repeatedly said the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers also need to help find a solution for the CIB’s deficit.
On Friday, team president Bill Polian said the Colts were willing to talk about a solution. And although Irsay and Polian have not said that the Colts wouldn’t pay anything, that is clearly their preference.
“We sat in the old stadium and labored for years in the smallest stadium in the league with one of the top three payrolls in the league and we waited our turn,” Irsay said. “Yet it’s not the case with the NCAA and the Pacers. What I’m saying is that we will defend our brand.”