Senate panel backs renovating Carroll Stadium for soccer

Indiana Senate fiscal leaders threw their support Tuesday morning behind spending $20 million to improve the Michael A. Carroll Stadium at IUPUI to benefit the Indy Eleven professional soccer team and to lure other events to Indianapolis.

The Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee unanimously passed an amended version of House Bill 1273, which sought state support for a new professional soccer stadium in downtown Indianapolis. The amendment, authored by committee Chairman Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, drastically changed the nature of the bill by focusing it on IUPUI’s existing facility, where the Indy Eleven spent their first season in the North American Soccer League.

The original proposal for an $82 million stadium “should’ve been a private project, in our opinion,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. Kenley, a member of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that’s why he and Hershman took the bill in a “completely different direction.”

Hershman said focusing on the existing facility lowers the overall development costs as well as the risk to state coffers.

“Total exposure to the state is debt service on $20 million,” he said.

Hershman said ticket taxes and other tax revenue that would be captured should be enough to offset those payments, which would be around $2 million per year.

He said the amendment also leaves the city of Indianapolis and the private sector an opportunity to add to the state's $20 million investment if they choose.

Tom Morrison, Indiana University’s vice president of planning and capital facilities, endorsed the amended bill.

“The location is very good," he said. "It’s the facility itself that needs some work."

The stadium was built in 1982 for $7 million. Without the state money, Morrison said IU’s long-term plan is to demolish the stadium and leave a track and athletic fields in that location, which is along New York Street and the White River.

Jason Dudich, chief of staff to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said the mayor supports any new multi-purpose facility in the city, including an improved stadium at IUPUI. He said the city will look to invest either in the renovated stadium or surrounding infrastructure that would make Indianapolis more attractive to other events.

Hershman said it was important to the senators that the facility be available and attractive to NCAA events, though he said "those events are modest money-makers.”

Indy Eleven President Peter Wilt thanked the Senate committee for creating a "thoughtful" solution, which allows the city to attract more events and the team to grow.

Wilt said the team isn't committing at this point to a cash contribution for the improved facility.

He noted that team owner Ersal Ozdemir already has made "significant contributions" in forming the team and spent $2 million to $3 million on a first round of improvements to seating and suites at Carroll Stadium.

Built in 1982 and named for a late civic leader, Carroll Stadium seats 12,000, and has hosted the 2006 and 2007 USA Track and Field Championships, among other amateur competitions.

If renovated in line with the amendment, the stadium would have capacity for 18,000.

Last year, the Eleven sold out all 15 games at an average attendance of about 10,500. The attendance was among the highest in the North American Soccer League, which is a tier down from Major League Soccer.

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