Editorial: Public kept in dark on Pacers deal until 25-year pact was fait accompli

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The Indiana Pacers are on track to remain in Indianapolis for at least another quarter century. That’s great news for fans of the team and for those who appreciate what a big-time sports franchise can do for the quality of life and cohesion of a community.

But don’t expect this to be a celebratory editorial. From a transparency perspective, the process to reach this point has been a travesty.

On the morning of April 12, the Capital Improvement Board voted unanimously to approve a Pacers deal that will cost the quasi-governmental entity nearly $800 million over the next 25 years.

The money will go toward covering operating expenses of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which the CIB owns and Pacers Sports & Entertainment operates, as well as for technology upgrades and the bulk of the cost of the $360 million expansion and renovation of the venue.

Until that morning, there had been no public discussion hinting that a deal would be so costly.

And supporters of a measure in the General Assembly that would shift millions of dollars in state revenue to the CIB managed to gain the support of rank-and-file lawmakers without any public discussion of the CIB’s long-term financial picture.

Left undiscussed were such critical questions as which CIB bonds would be paid off when and what financial needs other CIB-owned venues, such as Lucas Oil Stadium, might have in the coming decades.

When IBJ posted its story detailing the Pacers deal on April 12, an online commenter was understandably flummoxed, writing: “It’s simply stunning that a deal of this magnitude between a quasi-government entity could be kept from public view until the morning of the meeting to approve.”

This isn’t an attack on the deal’s structure, which has merits—most notably its reliance on tourism-related funding sources, such as auto-rental and innkeeper’s taxes, and an expansion of what’s known as a professional sports development area.

The PSDA is a zone mostly downtown that captures state income and sales taxes generated at Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field, the Indianapolis Colts’ northwest-side practice venue and four downtown hotels.

That stew of funding sources is far superior to a broader approach that would have burdened residents of Indianapolis or the region as a whole with the costs of this deal.

Even so, the CIB and Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration should not have engineered a deal of this magnitude without a broader discussion of funding priorities. After all, this is a city that struggles to find the resources to provide basic services, such as paving roads and filling potholes.

To be sure, no mayor wants the legacy of losing an NBA franchise. But there is a point at which keeping the team is just too costly to justify.

Whether we have reached that point is a question members of the broader community should have had an opportunity to consider—and provide input on.

But by the time the CIB and the Pacers made the deal public, the board was only minutes from approving it. By no definition is that a public process.•


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