Indiana Pacers have grand plans for 1.5-acre plaza

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Widely overlooked in the headline-grabbing deal to keep the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis for another 25 years is the team’s plan to create a major public plaza north of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, on the current site of a 770-space parking garage and surface parking lots.

Plans call for the outdoor plaza to host concerts and other public events, along with a public ice-skating rink in the winter and a public basketball court in the summer.

plaza-map.png“It becomes a year-round entertainment opportunity,” said Rick Fuson, the team’s president and chief operating officer.

The 1.5-acre plaza—bordered by Maryland Street to the north and the fieldhouse to the south—is part of a sweeping deal with the Pacers that the city’s Capital Improvement Board unanimously approved April 12.

The deal calls for a $360 million renovation and expansion of the fieldhouse. The CIB and the city will pay for the bulk of the project—$295 million—with Pacers Sports & Entertainment kicking in $65 million.

Out of that $65 million, the Pacers are spending $38 million to acquire the parking garage from New York businessman Armand Lasky—who also owned the Pan Am Plaza garage until selling it last month—and two surface lots.

The sellers of the surface lots are Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake and Baltimore-based Chesapeake Parking LLC. The plaza would also encompass another surface lot along Delaware Street that already is owned by the CIB.

Pacers officials said they are creating the plaza as a community asset and are not relying on it as a major revenue generator—unlike changes slated for the interior of the fieldhouse, such as reducing the number of suites to create more ticketed gathering places.

In addition to seasonal amenities, the plaza is expected to feature a translucent, year-round canopy, large swings, tables and chairs, and an abundance of green space.

plaza-factbox.png“It’s an investment in downtown to provide great experiences for everyone,” said Brent Rockwood, spokesman for Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

Rockwood said the Pacers are using successful plazas that other NBA teams opened in recent years as a blueprint. The Sacramento Kings opened their plaza at the Golden 1 Center in 2016, and the Milwaukee Bucks opened theirs at Fiserv Forum last year.

“As an entertainment company, we have the industry knowledge that these types of spaces attached to arenas are successful,” Rockwood said.

The Milwaukee venue draws the public during the lunch hour, as well as a few hours before each home game, said Andrew Weiland, editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

“There always seems to be at least a handful of people spending time at the plaza,” he said.

The Pacers hope to entice visitors to the plaza during cold-weather months by operating an ice-skating rink that will be as large or larger than the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York.

“There are lots of cities that have these kinds of plazas and really activate them in some good, positive ways,” said Mark Rosentraub, a sports business professor at the University of Michigan. “If it’s programmed well, it becomes an asset.”

Not everyone is so confident.

Justin Ferguson, executive director for Ball State University’s Indianapolis-based Center for Civic Design, expressed skepticism about adding another large, open space downtown.

Ferguson Ferguson

He noted there are already several that seem underused, such as the Charles L. Whistler Memorial Plaza at City Market, the Richard G. Lugar Plaza adjacent to the City-County Building and Pan Am Plaza.

“The biggest issue is just going to be keeping it active,” Ferguson said. “When you look at the renderings, you see they’ve got some interesting ideas … but it’s hard to know what the plans are for really activating that space on a consistent basis.”

Rosentraub said the plaza could create something of a bookend for Georgia Street, which connects the fieldhouse with the Indiana Convention Center to the west. The street was converted into a pedestrian-friendly corridor before the 2012 Super Bowl and hosts a variety of community events.

But Ferguson said it might be difficult for those two public spaces to complement each other.

“The plaza I’m seeing for the Pacers is just going to be ginormous,” he said. “So to try and get all this stuff happening there, and then to expect it to flow out to Georgia Street … it’s tricky.”

rop-fieldhouse-jump-041919-15col.jpg The Pacers want to make the plaza a year-round destination, in part by operating an ice-skating rink during cold-weather months. (Rendering courtesy of the Indiana Pacers)

Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy, said the plaza might be a selling point to meeting and convention planners drawn to walkability and public amenities.

More than 100 major events were held last year on Georgia Street, according to Downtown Indy, which manages the corridor. This does not include other uses by the public, or street-artist performances.

The Pacers have had preliminary talks with Visit Indy and Downtown Indy about collaborating on events, but have not discussed specifics.

Gahl said the plaza would “open up new business opportunities for the city.”

While the Pacers are buying the properties needed to create the plaza, ownership eventually will be transferred to the CIB.

The Pacers will be responsible for operating and maintaining the plaza, as they are for Bankers Life Fieldhouse itself. Under the new, 25-year deal, the CIB will pay PS&E $12.5 million to $16.5 million per year for operating expenses.

The CIB also is providing $25 million for infrastructure improvements to the areas around the fieldhouse. That money is part of the nearly $800 million it is committed to spend over the life of the deal.

Plans call for demolishing the parking garage after the fieldhouse hosts the NBA All-Star Game in 2021. The plaza is slated to open in fall 2022.

Losing the parking garage will further squeeze an already tight market for downtown parking spaces, said Jon Owens, a local office broker with Chicago-based Cushman & Wakefield.

“I think it will be an issue to lose that [garage],” he said. “It definitely fills up for Pacers games and other events.”•

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