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Editorial: Lawmakers should work with CIB to fund sports, convention upgrades

November 30, 2018

The Capital Improvement Board plans to ask the Legislature for at least $8 million in annual funding as part of a larger plan to expand the Indiana Convention Center and make improvements to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and other properties it owns.

As reporters Hayleigh Colombo and Lindsey Erdody detail in a story on page 1, the quasi-government agency is seeking to identify and fund a 25-year plan for its operations and the future infrastructure needs of the convention center as well as the fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field.

IBJ applauds the forward thinking and we’re eager to see CIB’s long-term plan, which Chairwoman Melina Kennedy said is still under discussion.

A top priority will be replacing operating revenue that CIB plans to redirect to bonds for a convention center expansion it announced last month. That’s part of a project that also includes two new convention hotels.

But what might get the most attention at the Legislature are improvements to the fieldhouse that Pacers Sports & Entertainment officials have said are needed as part of a long-term deal to keep the NBA team in town.

Pacers owner Herb Simon, 84, says he wants the Pacers to stay in Indianapolis even after he’s gone.

But Simon told The Indianapolis Star last year that the fieldhouse needs a “major redo” and that the team has spent more than $1 million on renovation concepts. He said then that Pacers officials would soon “sit down with the city and other people to work it out.”

If that’s happened, officials are mum about the details, including how much a fieldhouse “redo” could cost. Simon assured The Star it would be less than a new arena. But experts have told IBJ in the past that such renovations would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

And of course, a 25-year plan will need to consider improvements to Lucas Oil, which opened in 2008, and probably other convention center expansions as well.

The easiest funding solution might be to build on what already exists.

Currently, CIB is funded in part with tax revenue that is generated in a zone that includes the sports stadiums and convention hotels. That’s revenue that would otherwise be going to state and local government.

In addition, several tourism- and entertainment-related taxes are also dedicated to CIB to help it pay off bonds related to Lucas Oil Stadium, although they are set to expire within a decade.

Expanding that development zone to include new hotels—ones that aren’t already generating revenue for the state—seems to be a good option, as does substantially extending the life of those existing tourism-related taxes.

But it will be important to see where CIB sets its priorities before IBJ endorses a final plan. We believe in the concept and we urge the Legislature to take the request—which has the blessing of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett—seriously.

It’s a tough ask of lawmakers, who hail from across Indiana and have projects in their own backyards they’d like the state to fund. But we ask them to look beyond geography and view the convention center and the sports teams—the general health of Indianapolis overall—as important to the entire state.•

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

 

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