Indians sign new 20-year lease for Victory Field

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The city’s Capital Improvement Board on Monday unanimously approved a lease deal that will keep the Indianapolis Indians playing at Victory Field for the next 20 years.

The Indians board of directors had previously approved the deal.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Indians will pay no rent, but will continue to cover all maintenance, repairs and operational expenses. Under the former 20-year lease deal, the Indians paid $500,000 annually to lease the 14-acre venue on the west edge of downtown and an additional $50,000 annually as part of a ballpark improvement fund.

The new lease begins April 1, 2016, just a few months before the stadium turns 20 years old.

“We’re excited about this deal,” said Indians General Manager Randy Lewandowski. “We’ve been a good tenant and I think this deal shows the CIB recognizes the value we bring. We’re growing and thriving right along with downtown, and this cements that will continue to happen over the next 20 years.”

Lewandowski added that the team’s annual rent payment helped pay off the bonds to pay for the $18 million venue. Now that those bonds are paid off, team officials didn’t think they should have to continue to pay the annual rent.

The CIB also agreed to invest $6 million over the first four years of the new lease deal to improve Victory Field.

Under the old terms of the deal, the Indians were responsible for all facility expenses, including day-to-day operations and capital expenditures.

Under the new deal, the CIB agreed to pay $1.95 million to $2.15 million to replace the scoreboard and add ribbon signage boards; $1.7 million to $1.8 million to complete the Home Plate Club premium area on the suite level; $1.5 million to $1.95 million to renovate 30 suites; $1.65 million to $1.75 million to replace all stadium seating; and $1.44 million to $1.54 million to complete an extension to the administration office level.

The CIB also agreed to pay to replace the sound system, renovate the suite level common area and restrooms, and construct an auxiliary storage building.

“I think this is a good deal. A fair one,” said CIB Executive Director Barney Levengood. “The Indians have been a good partner.”

Lewandowski said the team will continue to invest money in the facility.

“The $6 million will not get everything accomplished,” Lewandowski said. “We want to keep this facility pristine.”

Indians officials sought a rent-free deal so the team would have more money to invest into the facility, he said.

“[The venue] is certainly going to take a little more TLC. It’s just like a house, when it gets to be this age, it needs a little extra care to keep it in really good shape,” Lewandowski said.

CIB Board President Earl Goode noted the team’s record attendance each of the last two years, adding “It’s been a major attraction for downtown.”

The Indians set a Victory Field attendance record this year by drawing 662,536 fans, breaking last year’s mark by nearly 2,000 fans.

Indians attendance has surged in recent years. The team drew 549,552 in its 2009 season. The annual figure edged to 569,969 in 2010, 580,082 in 2011 and 595,043 in 2012. The 2013 total, 637,579, was the highest in Minor League Baseball.

While the Indians certainly got a better lease deal the second time around, officials for the AAA Minor League baseball team could argue that it still doesn't compare to the deals enjoyed by their major league neighbors.

Indiana taxpayers paid for $620 million of the $720 million to build Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts home, plus the CIB pays for maintenance and operations for the goliath facility. The Colts pay $250,000 annually to lease the 63,000-seat venue and keep all game-day revenue, plus $3.5 million in other revenue generated by the facility.

The Indiana Pacers pay a $1 a year to rent Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The team keeps the revenue from the facility and the CIB pays $16 million a year to help cover operations and maintenance costs.

The bonds on Victory Field were retired in June, and when that happened, the ownership of property reverted back to the White River State Park, as was stated in the original deal to build the venue. White River State Park officials have agreed to lease the land and facility back to the CIB at no charge. CIB officials said this has virtually no bearing on its deal with the Indians.

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