Groups fear escalating stadium costs-WEB ONLY

Organizations hosting events at Lucas Oil Stadium already expected to pay more than they did at the RCA Dome, but some fear the Capital Improvement Board’s financial difficulties could drive costs even higher.

The concern is greater for not-for-profits operating on tight budgets that likely will pay at least 25 percent more to use the stadium compared with rates at the RCA Dome. In addition, some are receiving fewer grant dollars from the CIB, further straining financial resources.

Music For All, the former Bands of America Organization that relocated to Indianapolis from Chicago in 2003, will conduct its November Grand National Championships in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. CEO L. Scott McCormick anticipates that stadium costs will be higher than at other venues hosting Music for All events, such as the Georgia Dome in Atlanta or Alamodome in San Antonio.

“It has clearly become the most expensive of all the [stadiums] we use around the country, and that clearly was not the case with the RCA Dome,” McCormick said. “The challenge in this economy is, how do you navigate those waters?”

The Indiana High School Athletic Association did so by raising ticket prices. In 2007, the last year it held football championships in the RCA Dome, the IHSAA paid $152,000 in rental fees. Last year, in the new stadium, those costs climbed more than 40 percent, to $261,000, according to the IHSAA.

Despite the higher ticket prices, the football games drew record attendance, likely due to the novelty of the new stadium, said Jason Wille, IHSAA’s sports information director.

The CIB is the city agency that operates the stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse, Victory Field and the Indianapolis Convention Center. Its looming $47 million budget deficit is due largely to the additional $20 million it takes to manage the larger stadium and $15 million in Conseco Fieldhouse operating costs it anticipates assuming next year from the struggling Indiana Pacers.

State legislators failed to take action on a bill that would have allowed Indianapolis to raise hotel, car rental and ticket taxes to help fund the CIB. But a solution could arise from the special legislative session likely to be held in mid-June. Any funding proposal would need to be approved by both the state Legislature and City-County Council.

In the meantime, Dan Acheson, executive director of Drum Corps International, hopes a remedy is near.

“What I am concerned about is that the stadium deal could change because of the CIB situation,” he said.

While anything is possible, hiking stadium rental rates is highly unlikely, CIB Vice President Pat Early said.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” he said. “But again, that’s assuming we can solve these problems and be able to provide these services.”

Cities that have hosted Drum Corps International’s World Championships remain interested in the event, said Acheson. He still receives occasional inquiries even though it has a contract he views as “fair.”

Acheson told CIB members at one of their recent meetings that the competition is “real,” and if they want the World Championships to remain in Indianapolis they need to resolve the crisis.

Neither Music For All nor Drum Corps International is seeking to break its contract to use the stadium. But Acheson acknowledged there are “plenty of out clauses on both sides.”

“There are always opportunities out there if we needed to go to those,” he said.

Drum Corps International relocated to Indianapolis from the Chicago suburbs last year in part because of the new stadium and the city’s efforts to build a hub of not-for-profit music organizations.

The organization has a nine-year agreement with the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association to host its World Championships at the stadium in August. Drum Corps International held the event in Bloomington last year because construction of the stadium wasn’t finished.

The ICVA markets the CIB’s venues. ICVA Director of Communications Bill Benner declined to discuss the not-for-profit’s contract concerns.

To step up city marketing efforts, ICVA requested up to $5 million in additional yearly funding from the CIB that it has not received. The ICVA’s $10.5 million budget ranks below many of its competitors’. Only Minneapolis’ $9.6 million is less. In contrast, San Antonio’s visitors association receives $20 million.

Acheson said the ICVA’s lack of support is as disconcerting to him as the possibility that his stadium deal could change.

Still, he and McCormick said they remain committed to Indianapolis, but he stressed that the CIB situation needs to get fixed soon.

“It’s a huge drain on us and a huge drain on the arts,” McCormick said. “I certainly hope that it’s a short-term problem.”

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