Indy Fuel’s planned move to Fishers has been longtime dream for owner

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Jim Hallett at The Fuel Tank, a skating and hockey center he owns in Fishers. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

The announcement last fall that the Indy Fuel minor league hockey team would move to Fishers and be the anchor tenant for an 8,500-seat arena was the culmination of two decades of vision and work by the team’s founder Jim Hallett.

The idea sprang from a study Hallett had commissioned in the early 2000s to find the right spot for the Indianapolis Ice, the franchise he then owned that played in a low-level hockey league. He later sold that team (and it moved to Kansas), and 10 years later, Hallett launched the Indy Fuel, which plays at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in a more competitive minor league called ECHL.

“I’ve always had this vision to bring a higher level of hockey to Indianapolis,” Hallett told IBJ. “With the Fuel we’ve been able to do that, but my big question has always been, if we were going to bring better hockey to Indianapolis, where it would best be to locate it?”

Even in the early 2000s, the answer was clear, he said. “My consultants came back and said that the city that was moving in the direction that I would want to be in would be Fishers.”

But Hallett’s early efforts to court Fishers fell flat. At the time, Fishers was still a town, and the population was just 37,000, about a third of the number of people who live there today. So he backed off the idea.

He sold the Ice after the 2001 season because of escalating costs associated with the team’s travel and operations and took a break from hockey to run KAR Global, the Carmel-based auto-auction company where he’s now executive chairman. Then in 2014, he founded the Indy Fuel, which plays at a higher level and pits the team against opponents in Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo, Toledo and Cincinnati, Ohio.

And he took another run at Fishers.

Scott Fadness

Scott Fadness—who was then the Fishers town manager and is now the mayor—remembers that he was open to the idea at the time. But Fishers was in the midst of transitioning from town to city, a process it completed in 2015, and his emphasis was on adding amenities for the town’s residents rather than taking a chance on a fledgling hockey team.

“Hallett was talking about building a facility for his team, and we took it pretty seriously at that time, but Fishers was a different place then—a different sized community—so it just didn’t work out,” Fadness told IBJ.

“But Jim and I have maintained a great relationship, and I’ve found both he and his team to be really Class A people who share a common vision around the venue.”

And so Fadness focused on growing Fishers into a regional destination—adding the Nickel Plate District as well as Ikea and Topgolf. Then came the proposed Fishers District—first known as The Yard—which was to feature apartments, hotels, office space and retail.

Construction began in 2017—and that’s when conversations between Fadness and Hallett restarted as well, with discussions focused on a few nearby sites that could accommodate a hockey venue.

“There was a pent-up demand that I was hearing and seeing in the community about places to go and finding an epicenter” for entertainment, Fadness said. “So, we got really serious about how we deliver that for our citizens.”

Today, Fishers has roughly 100,000 residents—and the amenities and Fishers District keep growing, as well.

The hockey arena—which is expected to open in December 2024—is part of a $650 million expansion plan for Fishers District. The development, planned east of Interstate 69 between East 106th and East 116th streets, is to include new retail, restaurant, entertainment and residential options.

And the event center that houses the hockey arena will be designed to host other sports, theatrical and entertainment events.

Fishers “has really developed into a really exciting and vibrant market that people are enjoying,” Hallett said. “They’re enjoying the opportunities that the city has created with the way that they’ve expanded and built it up.”

A rendering of the 8,500-seat arena planned at Fishers District, where the Indy Fuel will play. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Fishers)

The long play

Even while Hallett was thinking about a hockey arena in Fishers, he was investing directly in hockey’s future in Hamilton County. In 2015, he bought the former Forum at Fishers Ice Arena and renovated the facility into a state-of-the-art community amenity, which is also used by the Fuel for its practices and housing.

The facility has become a beacon for ice-inclined families throughout the northern suburbs, offering a learn-to-skate program that serves about 350 children, some of whom are as young as 2. The Fuel Tank facility also offers public skating throughout the week and averages about 300 skaters every Friday and Saturday night.

The Fuel has also supported several youth initiatives across central Indiana since its inception, including the Indiana Youth Hockey Association’s Junior Fuel team, ice skating and figure skating programs and a dedicated program for girls hockey in which about 150 girls participate.

Hallett, a Canadian by birth, said his goal with those efforts has long been to build up interest in hockey—and so far, it has worked. Right now, about 1,100 children participate in the Junior Fuel program, an increase of 30% from 2015.

“If you’re going to grow a fan base, you’ve got to start with grassroots, with kids, and getting them involved in hockey programs,” he said. “We didn’t just go in and say, ‘We’re going to have a professional hockey team here, and we’re going to have fans come and watch a game.’ It’s more than that; we wanted to create a facility, an environment, an experience for every demographic, whether they are 3 years old or 93 years old.”

The growth of the sport in Fishers and Hamilton County has had some positive side effects for the Fuel franchise, serving as guerilla marketing that has driven thousands of spectators to the team’s games over the years.

A helpful bump

The city and Hallett announced their deal last September, part of a $1.1 billion rollout of several projects that also included new headquarters projects for Andretti Autosport and The Stevanto Group.

But the Fuel project initially came together in late 2019 with what was to be a purpose-built facility for the team. But that deal—which was never announced publicly—was derailed by the pandemic.

“That was a difficult phone call,” Hallett said, recalling his discussion with Fadness in the early days of COVID. “He said that we’d have to postpone [the announcement], because there’s no way the city could commit to this facility until it knew where the whole COVID thing was going, which I understood.”

The project was tabled for more than a year, but in 2021 the parties came back to the table and agreed to modify it to further emphasize the facility as an event center that’s open for community events, in addition to Fuel games, Hallett said.

The event center is just one element of the district’s second phase. Indianapolis-based developer Thompson & Thrift is also building a $63 million multifamily and garden home community, along with 250 luxury apartments, a 150-room hotel, 80,000 square feet of office space and at least 60,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space.

The arena will accommodate 7,000 fans for hockey games and up to 8,500 people for other events. It is expected to cost $170 million and feature high-end, private suites, premium seating, multiple concession offerings and restaurants, and state-of-the-art audio-visual technology.

“We’re not only moving because Fishers is a great spot and a great town,” Hallett said. “It’s also about the facility they’ve committed to build.”

Fishers will use bonds to fund construction of the facility and plans to use $360,000 in annual rent from the Fuel to help make the payments. That rent is far less than the $950,000 the Fuel is now paying now to use the Coliseum each year.

Other funding for the event center will come from a newly instituted food and beverage tax that brings Fishers in line with other growing northern suburbs, including Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield in Hamilton County and Zionsville in Boone County. The tax is on top of the state’s 7% sales tax and an existing 1% county food and beverage tax.

The events center is projected to cost $170 million and will feature high-end, private suites and other premium seating. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Fishers)

Looking ahead

The event center offers new opportunities for community events. In addition to hosting basketball games between Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers high schools, it will also be the first venue in Fishers large enough to accommodate major community events like graduations.

The facility will also be available for national acts to use, in the same way Ruoff Music Center is in Noblesville or the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park—or even the Coliseum—are now.

The city projects the facility will host 36 hockey games each year, plus 90 to 130 other events.

Karen Radcliff

“It’s a win-win, as it not only will draw more high-caliber events to Hamilton County, it is also helping to retain a professional hockey team in central Indiana,” said Karen Radcliff, vice president and chief strategy officer for Hamilton County Tourism Inc. “We have been hearing from a lot of groups that can see themselves in a facility like this.”

While Radcliff declined to identify specific groups that have inquired about the venue, she indicated many are involved in youth-focused sports like gymnastics, wrestling, taekwondo and boxing.

“Having the Fuel up here is going to be not only an opportunity for the city to get behind its own team, but it’ll give our residents a place to go for a night out,” she said. “We have a large family community up here in Hamilton County, many of whom have some discretionary entertainment funds. So I think the Fuel will do really well in the suburbs.”

Fadness said he’s excited to see the continued growth of hockey in his city, but he said the event center will be just as much a space for the community as it is for the Fuel.

“You need to uphold and evolve the traditions of your community that people hold dear,” he said. “That’s something we want to make sure that we can do well in this new facility.”

Hallett is also expected to lead efforts to find a naming rights partner for the venue, with a call for offers planned in the next 30 days. The city and team would split that revenue 80/20, respectively. And while choosing a Fishers-based company isn’t a must, Fadness said, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“We want to bring somebody in early with it, but we’re looking at talking to … a variety of folks that have a footprint throughout Indiana, or even beyond,” he said. “We’re really eager to identify that partner and bring them on board sooner rather than later.”

Big shift

The Fuel has played home games at the 6,500-seat Indiana Farmers Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds since it began in the 2014-2015 season, but it’s nearing the end of its initial 10-year term with the state. Indiana spent $53 million renovating the Coliseum in the years leading up to the Fuel’s move in,

Hallett said he signed a deal that could have run 25 years—the 10-year term, plus three five-year extensions—but instead wanted to make the move to Fishers.

On the ice, the Fuel is among the ECHL division’s leaders, with a record of 31-17 through Feb. 22. Its attendance has jumped to an average of about 4,500 fans per game, up 25% from a year ago. It’s also set new franchise records for attendance at games multiple times this season.

On Jan. 14, the team had 6,559 fans at its game against Kalamazoo.

Hallett said about one-third of the Fuel’s 1,500 season ticket holders are Marion County residents, and he expects there to be some attrition when the team moves to Fishers for the 2024-2025 season—particularly from some southside residents who don’t want to make a long drive.

But Hamilton County is where the club is seeing its biggest ticket-base growth, thanks in large part to the evolution of youth hockey programs.

David Pierce

David Pierce, an associate professor in IUPUI’s department of tourism, event and sport management, said the Fuel’s move to Fishers District will pay off in the long run for the team, even after a honeymoon period with the new facility.

“Anything that’s new is going to have a novelty effect, but I think the thing that really pushes it over the edge from the fan experience side is where it’s going in Fishers,” Pierce said. “There’s that entertainment district around it that will support it and over the long term be the ultimate catalyst and difference maker for the Fuel.”

Despite the move, Hallett said he has no plans to change the team’s name.

“Our brand is the Indy Fuel,” Hallett said.•

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18 thoughts on “Indy Fuel’s planned move to Fishers has been longtime dream for owner

  1. It’s a shame the team will be leaving the Coliseum. There are many part time workers who will loose their shifts working the venue. Perhaps there are more hockey fans in Hamilton county but the ones on the southside, including Greenwood, probably won’t make the trek to Fishers to catch a game any longer. Too bad – the atmosphere at the Coliseum is fantastic.

    1. For double the price of tickets? I highly doubt it.

      Who’s going to pay borderline NHL ticket prices for very very not good hockey?

  2. Disappointing seeing them leave but I guess it makes sense from a business perspective. As an Indy resident I probably won’t be going to any games up there unless they move to the AHL. I enjoy the coliseum but Fishers is not worth the drive, price, and hassle for the quality of hockey.

    1. Fishers taxpayers “care” DH. Last I checked, there are 3 minor league hockey teams in Indiana, so that reasoning is a non-starter. Hey, us Fishers taxpayers are puttin’ up the cash, let’s call the team Fishers Fuel. Kinda rolls off the tongue, you know? Make this team “the pride of Fishers” and a bunch of folks will show up to support “their” team.

  3. Relocating to the northside where all the privilege folks live doesn’t really help grow the game of hockey. This sucks for southsiders like me. I wish the owner had followed through 5 year ago and built that 2 rink ice complex in Greenwood.

    1. What’s “socioeconomic privilege”? Sounds like a vague attempt at vilifying smart educated people who work hard.

  4. Wow. $53 million in renovations to the Coliseum with only 5 years of play and now $170 million into a new facility? After the sale of the Ice as well? That is an awful lot of taxpayers dollars especially given the Ice and Fuel’s somewhat nomadic and inconsistent history. Hopefully this will be a longer term home.

  5. What will become of the Coliseum? After spending $53 million on renovations just have its main tenant leave, the State Fair Ground are starting to feel left behind.

    1. or at least an afterthought to most things related to development in the Indy area.

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