Clock ticking on Natatorium repair plan as Olympic trials loom

It appears to be taking longer than originally anticipated to hammer out an agreement to make needed repairs to the IUPUI Natatorium.

But officials in Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and at Indiana University remain optimistic a deal can be struck to rehab the facility in time for the 2016 Olympic diving trials.

In November, Ballard’s chief of staff, Ryan Vaughn, said he hoped by January to have City-County Council approval to fund about $9.5 million of the $20 million needed to repair and upgrade the facility. That hasn’t happened yet.

In November, Vaughn suggested the city could issue bonds to come up with its share of the repair money and repay them by tapping downtown Indianapolis economic development funds that come from a tax-increment financing district.

But Council Vice President John Barth, a Democrat, said there was pushback on that plan from Democrat and Republican council members. Since then, there’s been “radio silence” from the mayor’s office on the issue, he said.

“We haven’t heard anything on this so we assumed they were going a different direction,” Barth said.

The council’s concerns, Barth said, centered on using Indianapolis taxes to pay to upgrade a facility that is essentially state-owned.

“We understand the significance of this facility to the city, but there will have to be significant state participation in this,” Barth said.

Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter said the funding effort is still progressing. Indiana University officials remain optimistic that repairs can be made in time for the 2016 Olympic Diving Trials to be held in the Natatorium in June 2016.

“We’re working on this issue on two fronts,” said Tom Morrison, IU’s senior vice president for planning and facilities. “We’re putting together the engineering of the project and the funding.”

The extensive work is likely to take several months.

There’s good cooperation on the project between IU, city and Indiana Sports Corp. officials, Morrison added. “The right people are working on it. Everyone has the same goal.”

That goal, Morrison said, is to have the financing plan worked out by the end of this year and to do the work in 2015, likely in the summer.

If there is a financing plan in the works, that comes as news to Barth.

“Literally, we’ve heard nothing,” he said.

IU built the 4,700-seat Natatorium in 1982 for $21.5 million. It has hosted myriad national and international events. Recently there have been problems with the ventilation system. Upgrades also are needed to the facility’s roof, windows and lighting.

When asked who might pay for what, Morrison declined to discuss details. He said some of the funds could come from private donors, but added that the mayor is still committed to the city chipping in.

“I don’t want to get into the details of adding up the piggybank, because we’re not there yet,” Morrison said. “The city hasn’t backed off being a partner. … We’ve been very pleased with the mayor’s participation and that of his staff.”

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