by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
I have to admit to being torn when it comes to a new deal the Indiana Pacers are currently negotiating with the city of Indianapolis, State of Indiana and Capital Improvement Board.
As first reported last week in my political gossip column, the Cheat Sheet, the Pacers are trying to work out a 25-year deal with the aforementioned parties. From what I’ve been able to gather it looks like the Pacers would agree to stay until 2044 if the city/state/CIB could figure out a way to take care of the operational costs of Bankers Life Fieldhouse which would be by some estimates to the tune of about $25 million annually. There is also talk about the city/state/CIB making improvements to the Fieldhouse which could also run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now granted, this would not be the first deal the Pacers and the city/CIB have reached. In fact, this would be the third one in the last 10 years. The first one was back in 2010 when the City of Indianapolis worked out a three-year deal with the Pacers to assume the cost of the Fieldhouse. The Pacers got a $33 million loan for operational expenses, and the longer they stayed, the less they had to pay back. There was a second deal reached in 2014, to the tune of $160 million. That one was for 10 years, and the terms were similar; the Pacers agree to stay, and the CIB took care of the operating costs and upgrades.
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As someone who can appreciate what professional sports teams can do for a city, particularly the downtown hospitality industry, I cringe when these deals get so one-sided that state and local governments are primarily performing economic fellatio on the private sector; see Amazon. And at a time when local governments are dealing with limited financial resources, there is the public perception of misplaced priorities, particularly when it comes to crime, potholes, and homeless panhandlers.
It will be interesting to see how this all works itself out. Right now, according to my sources, all the parties are basically mapping out there positions and what they would like to see. The challenge, of course, is how will all this get paid for, will there be a ticket tax on events, a new hotel tax, an expansion of the professional sports development district to capture new revenue? And then there are the other questions of how does a new downtown hotel fit into this, what’s in it for the convention center, does Lucas Oil fit into this anywhere and what about a new soccer stadium? And since any deal would likely need some kind of legislative stamp of approval, what do other lawmakers ask for in their districts in exchange for their support of any new Pacers deal?
As I stated in the beginning, I go back and forth on deals like this. I can appreciate the economic impact they have on the city, but a bad deal, in my opinion, is worse than no deal at all.
Abdul-Hakim is the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org. His opinions are his own, but you are free to adopt them.