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2015 TOP STORIES: Other big news from the year

December 26, 2015

ASC fires leader after FBI raid

burkhart-jim-mug Burkhart

Agents from the FBI and other federal agencies raided the offices of American Senior Communities LLC and the home of its CEO, Jim Burkhart, on Sept. 15.

American Senior, the state’s largest nursing home company, fired Burkhart three days later. Sources with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries have said it focuses on whether Burkhart or anyone else at American Senior received kickbacks from vendors that provided products and services to the company’s nursing homes.

Fishers sports pavilionproposed, then stalls

The $76.4 million Fishers Sports Pavilion proposed by Noblesville-based GK Sports and Entertainment in April has yet to get off the ground, as financing for the massive project continues to be a problem.

The facility, which would be near 136th Street and Olio Road near Saxony Village, would include a 245,000-square-foot fieldhouse that could accommodate 31 different sports and an arena for entertainment shows, athletic events and concerts that could seat 4,200 to 6,000 people.

Book stirs controversy in world of college basketball

Powell Powell

A book published in October by IBJ Book Publishing—a sister company of the Indianapolis Business Journal tells the story of former stripper and prostitute Katina Powell, who says she was hired by former University of Louisville basketball staffer Andre McGee to supply strippers and prostitutes for 22 parties for UofL men’s basketball players and recruits from 2010 to 2014.

Investigations by the NCAA, University of Louisville, local prosecutors and others immediately follwed. McGee was put on paid leave by the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where he was then an assistant coach, and later resigned his post, though he denies the accusations.

Powell agreed to meet with NCAA investigators at the association’s Indianapolis headquarters. Four UofL students sued Powell and IBJ Book Publishing, saying the book damaged the school’s reputation. Five women who said they were described in the book later joined the lawsuit.

Pacers to build training center in partnership with St. Vincent

In August, the Indiana Pacers announced plans to build a five-story venue on a city-owned parcel across Delaware Street from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Capital Improvement Board, which owns the land, approved the project. The St. Vincent Center will include a facility run by St. Vincent Health on the fifth floor where primary care, cardiovascular and sports-performance services will be offered to the general public.

Pacers officials said the team will pay the costs to construct and operate the $50 million facility while paying CIB $1 per year in rent for the land usage. The Pacers aim to open the building—which will include player training facilities, practice courts and administrative space—in 2017.

Whitestown, Zionsville merger waits for Supreme Court action

The reorganization battle betweenWhitestown and Zionsville is at the Indiana Supreme Court. The case revolves around whether Zionsville is allowed to merge with Perry Township, which would give it the ability to add the position of mayor without transitioning to a city.

Whitestown is fighting against the action to protect its western border.

Since the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Zionsville in June, Jeff Papa has been serving as the town’s mayor.

WIBC pulls plug on Limbaugh

WIBC-FM 93.1 in July opted to stop airing “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” a vastly popular program with conservative talk-radio fans and one of the most-listened-to shows in this market since it began airing on the station 22 years ago.

Despite the show’s hefty price tag, “this was not primarily a financial decision,” said Charlie Morgan, local market manager for Emmis Communications Corp., which owns WIBC. “It’s not an inexpensive show to air, so there is a business element to the decision,” Morgan said. “But this has more to do with the long-term direction of the station.”

In July, iHeart Media’s WNDE-AM 1260 and WNDE-FM 97.5 began airing Limbaugh from noon to 3 p.m. Premiere Networks is a subsidiary of iHeart Media.

Broadcaster Amos Brown dies

Brown Brown

Amos Brown, who hosted a popular radio show on WTLC in addition to writing columns and hosting a television show, died Nov. 7.

The death of Brown, 64, also an activist who specialized in reports advocating for minority communities and on behalf of public education, came as a shock to his listeners and to the Indianapolis media and political community. He recently celebrated 40 years as a broadcaster.

Teradata to sell Aprimo unit

Ohio-based Teradata announced in November that it would sell a business unit formerly known as Aprimo, the Indianapolis-based marketing software company it bought for $525 million five years ago.

The publicly traded software company didn’t say if it had a buyer lined up for the unit, now known as the Marketing Applications unit. The news came in the wake of dismal third-quarter earnings, which sent Teradata’s stock trading at or near its six-year low.

Co-founded in 1998 by tech veteran Bill Godfrey, Aprimo was one of the area’s fastest-growing startups during the 2000s. Godfrey and other former Aprimo executives have injected some of the money they reaped from the sale into new startups.

Mainstreet revenue skyrockets

Carmel-based developer Mainstreet lost a rematch in the Indiana General Assembly over whether to ban new construction of skilled-nursing facilities. Lawmakers this year forbid new projects until June 2018. But Mainstreet’s dizzying growth continued, with revenue rising from $119 million in 2014 to $250 million this year. Mainstreet also engineered a $302.5 million reverse takeover of a Canadian company that will once again give Mainstreet a publicly traded investment firm to help finance its development projects.

Indy Eleven seeks new stadium

Despite a 6.3 percent attendance dip during its second season, Indy Eleven officials remain committed to seeking funding for a new downtown stadium.

“The tire kickers may have left, but we had a really good base,” Indy Eleven President and General Manager Peter Wilt told IBJ after the season ended in November.

For the second consecutive year, the Eleven led the North American Soccer League in attendance and revenue gains from sponsorship, food and beverages, and camps made up the loss in ticket revenue.

Wilt and team owner Ersal Ozdemir plan early next year to begin lobbying state lawmakers for funding for a new downtown stadium. The team currently plays its games at the IUPUI track and soccer stadium.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley said he won’t support the plan since it is not a budget year for the state.

Tech gurus launch High Alpha

Some businesses create products, some create software, and some create companies. Indianapolis-based High Alpha falls into that last category. Its goal is to pump out high-growth companies that sell enterprise software. It was launched in May by former ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey and Gravity Ventures partners Kristian Andersen, Mike Fitzgerald and Eric Tobias.

High Alpha also adopts fledgling startups and surrounds them with capital and resources. It raised $35 million in May and plans to spawn eight to 10 companies in the next three to four years.

Simon proposes major revampof downtown’s Circle Centre

Simon Property Group Inc. is proposing an estimated $20 million in improvements to Circle Centre mall, which spurred a downtown renaissance when it opened 20 years ago but is showing signs of struggle.

The proposed upgrades include an overall freshening of the 752,000-square-foot mall, including new lighting and seating, an upgraded food court, upgraded bathrooms, construction of a mall entrance on Georgia Street, and improvements to other entrances to help better draw in passers-by.

The mall is owned by about 20 local companies that pumped $75 million into the $320 million project in the early 1990s. Simon manages the mall but owns just 15 percent and needs the green light from the ownership group—led by Eli Lilly and Co., the largest investor.

BlueIndy launches

The electric point-to-point car-sharing service BlueIndy started its engines in Indianapolis after months of consternation over the service between Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and the Democratic-controlled City-County Council.

The program, in which users pay a small fee to drive the cars between popular Indianapolis destinations and neighborhoods, comes from European company Bollore Group, which runs a service in Paris.

Democrats say they like the program in theory but say Ballard adopted it without a traditional public bidding process. The dispute over the program reached the point where some Democrats threatened to tow the company’s cars. But the company and the city maintained their contract was valid and launched without incident Sept. 2.

ChaCha’s demise accelerates; founder Jones tries to sell

Scott Jones Jones

Q&A search company ChaCha Search Inc. used to be one of Indiana’s hottest startups. At its peak, it had more than 100 employees and more than 260 million monthly Web page views. Today, it’s a skeleton company with four employees, fewer than 10 million monthly page views, and no physical office space.

ChaCha’s goal was to be a human-powered search engine, so it enlisted a network of guides to research queries. Consumers got ad-embedded answers via desktop Web, text message and, later, mobile app.

The company got some traction, but never found solid footing in a rapidly changing tech landscape. The biggest headwinds came from search-giant Google, which tweaked algorithms that effectively lowered ChaCha’s search-result rankings.

ChaCha raised $14 million in venture capital in early 2013 and still had more than 100 million monthly page views in mid-2014, according to site tracker Quantcast. But that traffic has shriveled to 8.4 million last month.

CEO Scott Jones is trying to sell ChaCha. He said its data and patents can be valuable to digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and others.•

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