Indy Eleven tries to win state lawmaker support for stadium project

Supporters of a proposal to build a permanent stadium for the Indy Eleven tried to make their case before key state lawmakers Thursday morning.

During a discussion on a bill that could keep the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis for at least another 25 years and provide an estimated $8.5 million in extra revenue to the Capital Improvement Board, the Senate Appropriations Committee also considered including language that would help fund the proposed 20,000-seat soccer stadium.

Senate Bill 7, filed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler, would extend the life of multiple tourism- and entertainment-related taxes that help fund the CIB and expand the footprint of what’s known as the Professional Sports Development Area to capture even more tax revenue for the quasi-government agency.

The bill would also increase the amount of the revenue the CIB could collect from the PSDA after July 1, 2021. Mishler estimates the changes would generate an additional $8.5 million per year for the CIB, which owns Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center. The CIB already receives $169 million annually—80 percent of its revenue—in state and local tax dollars that it uses for operations and to pay off bonds for buildings.

The legislation is based on a long-term growth plan the CIB has been working on with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration. The CIB needs to find a way to replace $8 million per year in operating revenue that will be redirected to pay off bonds for the proposed $120 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. The CIB also is looking ahead at future projects, including likely renovations at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

All the extra revenue has a catch: The CIB and the Pacers have to sign a new 25-year agreement by April 1. The Pacers’ lease at the fieldhouse expires at the end of 2024.

Mishler said the funding would likely pay for projects at all of the downtown sports venues owned by the CIB—Bankers Life, Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field—and he thinks it’s important to maintain those facilities.

“I feel that these venues generate a lot of money for the state of Indiana,” Mishler said.

Tourism and business officials stressed the need for the convention center expansion and new hotels in order to keep attracting major conventions, like Gen Con and the National FFA Convention & Expo.

“We cannot afford to sit idle,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Indy. “Other major cities are quickly approaching and looking to pass.”

But the bill has inadvertently become tied to a request by the Indy Eleven to use tax revenue to help pay for a proposed $550 million Eleven Park development that would include a $150 million publicly-owned outdoor stadium and privately funded residential and commercial projects at an unknown site in Indianapolis. 

A separate bill that would provide public financing for the stadium has been filed by Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, but Mishler won’t give that bill a hearing.

Instead, Mishler allowed Indy Eleven proponents to testify during the hearing for the CIB bill on Thursday morning, and the team came prepared.

Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir gave committee members an 85-page booklet that included information about the development and testimony from a variety of soccer organizations and public officials supporting the project. Letters from Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, Zionsville Mayor Tim Haak, the Indiana Sports Corp. and the United Soccer Alliance of Indiana were among those included in the packet.

Sandlin’s bill, Senate Bill 543, would allow the creation of a new PSDA in an unspecified area that could capture up to $11 million annually in state sales, income and use taxes that would pay for the construction of the stadium. According to estimates from Indy Eleven, the PSDA would generate between $5 million and $6 million annually. The PSDA would exist for up to 32 years.

Sandlin and Ozdemir are hoping the committee will take the language addressing the Indy Eleven project and amend it into Mishler’s bill on CIB funding.

Indy Eleven representatives stressed that they are not asking for existing state dollars or an appropriation because the funding would come from new revenue generated by the private development. And if the tax revenue fell short to cover the bond payments, the developer would be on the hook to make up the difference.

“The proposal includes no new taxes,” Ozdemir said.

Mishler has said he won’t include Indy Eleven in his bill unless the CIB specifically requests it, and it doesn’t seem likely the CIB will do so.

Senate Appropriation Committee members did not ask CIB President Melina Kennedy or CIB Executive Director Barney Levengood any questions after they testified during Thursday’s meeting, but after they left, Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, asked whether those supporting SB 7 wanted language from SB 543 included in the legislation.

Thomas Cook, Hogsett’s chief of staff, said they are deferring to state lawmakers on whether they think it fits within SB 7, but they do support the funding mechanisms proposed.

“We think it’d be premature to express support for the development itself,” Cook said.

The committee did not vote on the bill. It will return for possible amendments and a vote on Feb. 21.

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