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EDITORIAL: City should prepare for what could be dicey Pacers negotiation

October 28, 2017

It’s great to hear Herb Simon reiterate his goal to keep the Indiana Pacers both in Indiana and in the Simon family. Just as he told IBJ in 2014, Herb said this month that he plans to pass control of the NBA team—which he and his late brother purchased in 1983—to his son, Stephen, one of his eight children.

“I want to leave my legacy: this team permanently in Indianapolis,” Herb Simon told The Indianapolis Star. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

It’s easy to interpret that as good news for the city. And by most accounts it is.

But it’s not too hard to hear something else in Simon’s statement as well—that much more will be necessary to keep the team in Indianapolis. That’s where the situation could get dicey.

In 2014, the Pacers signed a deal with the city’s Capital Improvement Board that was meant to keep the team in town through the 2023-2024 season. Under the agreement, CIB is spending $160 million on arena improvements and subsidy payments to Pacers Sports & Entertainment in exchange for the team’s pledge to stay in Indianapolis.

But already, Pacers officials want to start negotiating the next deal. That won’t be cheap. On top of the money CIB pledged through 2023-2024—which includes annual subsidies of more than $10.8 million—the Pacers want what Simon called a “major redo” of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

He didn’t reveal just what the Pacers want or what a renovation might cost. But—as IBJ’s Anthony Schoettlereports in a front-page story this week—the Atlanta Hawks this summer unveiled plans for a $192.5 million renovation of its home venue, Phillips Arena. That stadium opened in 1999, the same year as Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Schoettle reports that it’s unlikely the Pacers will seek something so grand—and we don’t think the team should. Bankers Life Fieldhouse remains surprisingly modern and fan-friendly, even at 18 years old. Smaller renovations have already added new entertaining and ticket options, including the Legends restaurant and Sells Group Loft, which were funded by CIB as part of the existing deal with the Pacers.

Additional changes are almost certainly warranted. It’s important to the Pacers and the city that the fieldhouse remain viable for sports, concerts and other events. And we would hate to see the arena fall into the same sad state as Circle Centre mall, which was built just four years earlier and is in desperate need of an update that no one in power seems willing to talk about publicly.

But just as Pacers Sports & Entertainment must look out for its best interests in a negotiation, city leaders must act with the city’s best interests in mind. A deal can’t be done in desperation, out of fear that the team will pick up and move. Indianapolis must evaluate what the team is worth to the city and negotiate from a position of strength.

It appears the Pacers are ready to get started. City leaders need to make sure they’re just as prepared.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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