Indianapolis is considering upping its Pacers subsidies to a cool billion dollars

If you’ve been following the Twitters, you have probably already heard that Indiana’s Marion County Capital Improvement Board voted unanimously on Friday to approve a new lease and new subsidies for the Pacers. And what subsidies: Between cash for upgrading the Pacers’ arena and cash to cover the team’s year-to-year operating costs, Indianapolis-area taxpayers would be on the hook for an additional $777 million over the next 25 years. Coming on top of $384 million in public money that the Pacers owners have already received since 1999, this would bring the municipal region’s total spending to $1.161 billion — or almost as much as it would take to buy the team outright.

Facts have been flying fast and furious since Friday, so here’s what we know at present:

  • The new public expenditures would include $295 million to upgrade Bankers Life Fieldhouse, $362 million in operating subsidies (paid out in installments over 25 years), and $120 million on “technology upgrades” over the next ten years. Since some of that money won’t be paid out right now, we really should calculate it in terms of present value, which comes to around $600 million — making the total public expense just under $1 billion. A bargain! (And yes, I should really adjust that whole $1 billion into 2019 dollars or something, which would make the total slightly higher, but life is short and division is long.)
  • At $600 million for 25 years, the new subsidy would cost Indianapolis $24 million a year for the privilege of having the Pacers not threaten to leave town for another generation. That would blow the doors off the record for most lucrative lease extension per year, which I currently had scored as the Carolina Panthers‘ $14.6 million per year.
  • The deal isn’t final yet, as the Indiana state legislature hasn’t yet determined how to pay for all this. The state house approved a package of Pacers subsidies on Thursday (and also Indy Eleven subsidies, can’t leave them out), but the state senate still needs to vote on it.
  • The Pacers owners would have to pay a fee of “as much as $750 million,” according to the Indianapolis Star, if they wanted to break the lease and leave early. (That figure, interestingly, does not appear anywhere in either the CIB’s press release or its “fieldhouse agreement” PDF.) Of course, they’d also need to kick themselves in the head for giving up $14.5 million in annual operating subsidy checks, but the way Indiana elected officials like to hand out public dollars, it might not be the worst thing to restrict team owners from coming back for even more cash in a couple of decades — assuming that’s what this agreement would do, which we can’t tell until we’ve actually read it.
  • Local sportswriters are on the case justifying this massive public expense, noting that while “it doesn’t sit right” to give money to billionaires that could be spent on actual public needs, it’s nonetheless justified by the “financial” and “cultural” and “symbolic” and “most of all magnetic” benefits of keeping Pacers owner Herb Simon from moving the team, which he doesn’t want to do, but which he, you know, could.

In exchange for their boodle, the Pacers marketing department provided a whole mess of new vaportecture renderings, which include images of a couple touring the arena site while holding their adorable baby in the exact same position wherever they go, fans walking into mysterious glass walls, and people walking around on an ice skating rink in the snow while wearing street shoes and carrying identical handbags. If that’s not worth $600 million, I don’t know what is. 

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15 comments on “Indianapolis is considering upping its Pacers subsidies to a cool billion dollars

  1. I find it amusing that, ten years ago, Bruce Ratner copied the Pacers’ arena design (largely because journalists rated it as the best in the NBA), and now everyone acknowledges that it sucks.

  2. Pacers get like 750k people through the door each year. You could just give
    every one of them a $30 gift certificate to local restaurants etc, realize more consistent economic benefits, and save a couple bucks a year.

  3. A quotation talking about an old Supreme Court Ruling on baseball could apply to this $1 Billion (USD) offer, because otherwise how else do we explain it? (obviously besides the wonderful vaportecture):

    “The Justices’ reasoning seemed tortured and sentimental, as often happens when learned and powerful Americans confront sport, somehow assuming they should like it and endorse it….” (Vecsey, 2006)

  4. Has any visitor ever traveled to Indiana to see a Pacer game? Anyone? Show me the receipts

    1. Actually, yes, I have. But I was 20. I’m now a decade older, have since moved to Indiana and I HATE this deal.

  5. That final picture has me fascinated. I assume that’s an ice rink but nobody appears to have skates on and they all seem to be just standing there. There’s even a lady “skating” while holding a purse on the left side! And that huge line is all people standing in the cold waiting their turn to skate? But there’s no entry to the rink at either end of the line.

    1. Indiana is one of the few places where ice standing is still popular. It’s like curling without all the violence.

  6. I give the vaportecture a B-. It gets points for having the street lamps on in bright sunshine and empty seats on the club level are always a nice touch, but the design team missed an easy layup by leaving out fireworks.

  7. I’ve defended the Pacers deal in the past for a few reasons. First, the annual operating “subsidy” is the cost to operate and manage Bankers Life Fieldhouse (BLF). The Pacers perform that function and likely do a better job than the Capital Improvement Board. Granted, the Pacers cost to perform is likely higher but other sports teams (such as Colts) don’t perform this function. Second, BLF is a multi-purpose arena used extensively throughout the year (unlike a football stadium) for high school championships, Big Ten tournaments, concerts and other events. Without the Pacers, Indiana residents and taxpayers would likely still want a facility of this type in the capital city. Third, Indy’s downtown is built around attracting conventions so many of the events at BLF provide additional business for hotels and restaurants that complements convention business.

    However, the latest deal may go too far. The dollars are increasing dramatically, the changes inside the arena seem excessive and the amenities outside arguably duplicate other areas of the City. The most appalling part, however, is that details of the new CIB/Pacers agreement were not made public until the morning of the CIB meeting to approve the Agreement. Millions of taxpayer dollars approved with no opportunity for public comment.

    1. What you thought Herb would be satisfied with using the facility for free and not having to pay to operate the lights AND keep all the coin for managing the facility?

      This is the equivalent of a squatter staying in a multi-million dollar home while the actual homeowners pay all the bills then said squatter wants a new pool and an observation deck and said homeowners being sent the bill.

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