Aw, man, I should have known that Indiana state bill to limit Indy Eleven to $20 million in public money for renovations to their current stadium would be too good to be true. The latest snag: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which owns the stadium, says it would actually cost $50 million to $60 million to make it soccer-ready:
[IUPUI VP Tom] Morrison told lawmakers that Carroll Stadium, built in 1982, is “in desperate need of repair” and that a new, midsize stadium would fill “a gap in our community in terms of (sports) venues that size.”
Before you say anything: Yes, Indy Eleven is already playing at Carroll Stadium, and drawing well for a minor-league soccer team, so presumably fans aren’t afraid the place is going to fall down. No, Morrison didn’t say where that $50-60 million price tag came from. No, he also didn’t offer to pay for it, saying the school could only help pay for upgrades “around the edges,” and that hosting concerts probably wouldn’t bring in much money, so “I wouldn’t build a financial model around it.”
What appears to be going on here is that IUPUI has noticed that they could get a new(ish) stadium out of this deal, and so are presenting the state legislature with a wish list to see how much exactly they can get. Right now the state bill still limits state funding to $20 million, but there’s still the city of Indianapolis to hit up for cash, so keep one hand on your wallets, Hoosiers.
One small and slightly worrying loophole has emerged in the Indiana state senate’s plan to give the Indy Eleven minor-league soccer team $20 million for renovations to their current stadium at IUPUI instead of the $82 million new stadium that they wanted. Per the Indianapolis Star:
The details of the renovations haven’t been ironed out, Morrison said. But Indy Eleven would have to cover expenses beyond the $20 million and whatever the city of Indianapolis contributes, if anything.
Yes, well, whether the city of Indianapolis is going to be required to kick in more money would be an important detail, now wouldn’t it? The current bill also requires Indy Eleven to sign a 20-year lease, but could contain a buyout clause if the team wants to leave early, which depending on how it’s worded could be used by the team to demand more stadium subsidies down the road, as Hoosiers should be all too familiar with. So while cutting the immediate public subsidy from $82 million to $20 million is nice and all, let’s get a look at the actual lease language before we cheer too loudly for the Indiana senate for doing the right thing.
The Indiana state senate yesterday overwhelmingly passed its bill to spend $20 million on renovations to IUPUI’s stadium rather than spend $82 million on a new stadium for the minor-league NASL (but MLS expansion wannabe) Indy Eleven soccer team, and holy crap, it looks like Indy Eleven’s owners are actually going to go for it:
On Thursday, the team for the first time appeared to enthusiastically back the Senate version, rather than hold out for a new stadium. In a statement applauding the bill’s passage and looking ahead to the conference committee, the team made no mention of the original $82 million proposal.
“We are thrilled that the Senate’s vote today furthers our goal to secure a proper stadium for ‘the World’s Game’ and all of its passionate supporters from across Indiana,” said Peter Wilt, president and general manager of Indy Eleven.
Now, the senate bill still needs to be reconciled with the state house bill that approved the new $82 million building, so it’s still possible that Wilt’s statement left out the silent “Mwahahaha, foolish senate humans, we will say nice things about your bill while secretly planning to get the conference committee to split the difference and give us $50 million!” But that doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen, which would mean that this entire stadium shakedown would end with Indy Eleven accepting $20 million from ticket taxes (which come largely out of team owners’ pockets, since they limit how high they can raise ticket prices before pricing themselves out of the market) for some minor renovations, and agreeing to a 20-year lease (ironcladness yet to be determined) in the process.
That still may not be the ideal scenario — $20 million is still money, and the state of Indiana probably has other needs more pressing than upgrading a university football stadium — but it’s getting way closer to a price point where you can say, “Meh, that’s not too bad a price to pay to make some soccer fans happy.” So, and I never thought I’d say this, but props to the Indiana legislature for some tough negotiating. Would be nice if local officials would apply this bargaining ability to sports franchises other than minor-league soccer teams, but hey, baby steps.
The Indiana state senate means business with this Indy Eleven stadium renovation thing: The senate tax and fiscal policy committee headed by Brandt Hershman voted 13-0 yesterday first to reject spending $82 million on a new stadium, then voted unanimously as well to put $20 million in renovations of IUPUI’s stadium, where the NASL team currently plays, instead.
So how would this work, exactly? The state’s money would come mostly from a 10% ticket tax on events at the stadium, which according to projections for a new stadium could maybe just about barely be enough to pay off $20 million in state costs. Not that Hershman came up with that $20 million figure by seeing what the team could generate, either — he indicated that the number came from “rough estimate from IU for improvements,” so it’s more about the university’s wish list than what new tax revenue could actually pay off. Also, the city of Indianapolis could be asked to kick in some renovation money, as would Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir, if he wants more extensive upgrades.
In exchange … you know, I can’t find anything in the Indiana house bill that the state senate just amended to indicate what, if anything, Indy Eleven would be committing to. Presumably they’d have to sign some lease on the place, but it seems like the number of years they’d be signing up for, and whether they could demand further subsidies by threatening to leave town, would be key. Not that Indiana would ever sign a lease letting a team get away with anything like that.
So, in short: Much smaller public cost? Good! Reusing existing buildings when possible? Good! Throwing more than $20 million at your local one-year-old minor league soccer team just because they asked for four times that amount, without knowing what if anything they’re promising in return? Still not so good even at that price, so state legislators have some work to do to make sure this is actually worthwhile, not just less wasteful — but I’m sure we can trust Indiana elected officials to do the right thing, right? (Stop giggling.)
Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt has responded to Indiana state senator Brandt Hershman’s proposal to renovate IUPUI’s stadium for $20 million instead of building a new one for $82 million, and … he doesn’t hate it!
“Our partnership with Indiana University and IUPUI has been a critical part of our initial success, and having the campus option as a possibility for the stadium is one that we support,” Wilt’s statement said…
“We understand that the legislative process is a long journey and we look forward to continuing this dialogue … on Tuesday,” Wilt’s statement said.
Okay, that’s not exactly jumping for joy, and may well be nothing more than an acknowledgment that they know they have to work with the state senate on any stadium deal, not dismiss its proposals out of hand. Still, it does open up the possibility of renovation as an alternative, which is both 1) a possible way to save the state a ton of money and 2) the kind of thing that sports team owners typically dismiss out of hand with some statement about needing a “state of the art” facility. (Or, as a New York City development official once said of the Yankees‘ demands for a new stadium, renovations couldn’t provide “an adequate number of ladies’ rooms.”)
So, would $20 million for stadium upgrades for a minor-league soccer stadium be a good deal? That all depends on what the state would be getting back: If it’s some actual rent payments or revenue sharing, or a long-term lease for the team (as much as any NASL team’s signature on a lease can ever be said to be “long-term”), or something that IUPUI will actually be able to get some use of, then sure, maybe. In any case, $20 million would be a lot less of a heavy lift to make work than $82 million, and not building a whole new stadium when you have an old one that is already drawing well is always a good idea for everyone’s budget and carbon footprint. It’s bad for construction workers, I guess, but they can work on the renovations, and that extra $62 million will end up being spent on something. You see why I’m not generally a fan of new stadiums at all when it can be avoided? It’s really not just that I don’t like cupholders.
As predicted, Indiana state senator Brandt Hershman waited until the Friday media dead zone to announce his plan to fund a new $82 million stadium for the Indy Eleven NASL minor-league soccer team — which is a shame because everyone missed the surprise twist, which is that Hershman doesn’t plan to fund one at all:
Indiana University would issue up to $20 million in bonds to renovate IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium in an amendment being introduced by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, chair of the committee that’s handling the stadium bill.
The team would have to pay for expenses beyond the $20 million and whatever the city of Indianapolis contributes. The team would also have to sign at least a 20-year lease. A senate committee vote on the plan is scheduled for Tuesday.
Well, sure, that makes plenty of sense to look at: $20 million is a lot less than $82 million, and if the team isn’t a long-term success at least the local public university would have a shinier stadium to play in. (Not that that’s probably what it needs the most, but that’s another story.) And Indy Eleven is already drawing well there, so if any economic benefits you’d get from the team playing in a new stadium would probably accrue from them playing in an upgraded old stadium as well.
We’ll see tomorrow what the exact details of the plan are and how it would all be paid for, but for now, nice thinking outside the box, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek! Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir will no doubt not be pleased, but $20 million in free renovations would still be nothing to sneeze at.
Looks like Wisconsin isn’t the only state senate that can announce new sports venue finance plans without actually saying what they are: Brandt Hershman, chair of the Indiana state senate’s tax and fiscal policy committee, announced yesterday that he’d be introducing an amendment today to rework the Indy Eleven stadium financing plan, which has twice passed the state house but never made it through the senate. And Hershman’s new plan would be:
Hershman declined further comment.
Okay, then! Nothing yet on Hershman’s website or his Twitter, but it’s only 2 pm — maybe he’s planning one of those special 5 pm Friday announcements so that it makes the 6 o’clock news but nobody’s around to answer questions. (Note to any Indiana journalists: I’ll be around late this afternoon to answer questions.)
Is this WRTV6 report on the proposed Indy Eleven stadium perfectly inept? Let’s count the ways:
- Parrots the team owner’s claims about how much money will come from stadium ticket taxes, even though the team’s own projections contradict that? Check!
- Talks to only one source, a team exec wearing a team scarf? Check!
- Video of a stadium rendering flyover, plus video of exciting soccer footage? Check!
- Softball questions about “Should we trust you?” followed by the interviewer himself opining that any claims that the team isn’t trustworthy “are just not true”? Check!
- Interview subject claims that unlike other projects, this one has assurances in place that it “will not fall on the public’s shoulders,” and the interviewer then ends the segment without even asking what those assurances are? Check!
That, my friends, is some bad alleged journalism. Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt must have gotten lots of high fives on returning to the office, for putting across the team’s media message perfectly without having been challenged at all. Not that any of it will likely sway the state senate, but free televised PR time is never something to turn up your nose at.
So apparently the amendment to require that Indiana can only lose half its shirt on an $82 million Indy Eleven soccer stadium isn’t the only thing up in the air in the state senate: After the stadium funding bill passed the state house yesterday, senate leaders now say they might not even bring it up for a vote this year:
At a news conference before the House vote, Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said there are other priorities before the soccer stadium.
“I don’t get too excited over it, but at the same time, I haven’t delved into it too deeply this year,” Long said of the stadium. “We’re really focused on funding our priorities. Those have to come first. If the soccer stadium makes fiscal sense, we’ll certainly consider it. … That’s an additional issue that might have to wait … and even then, I don’t know where it would go.”
This is pretty much the exact same thing that happened last year, which is why the stadium bill is being considered now instead. Long hinted he might be willing to consider the stadium once the state gets updated revenue forecasts in April, but it’s impossible to know whether that’s “I want to be sure we have the money” or “I want to wait until I can point to all the other things we need the money for.” In any case, a bill to give $82 million in public money to the owner of a minor-league soccer team so long as he promises to stiff the state on paying back no more than half of it is now dependent on the whims of one state politician, which is a pretty good microcosm of democracy in America today.
The Indiana legislature is good for something after all, sort of! Yesterday the state house passed an amendment to the proposed Indy Eleven soccer stadium deal that would require the team’s owner to guarantee that new tax revenues would cover at least half the state’s $82 million cost.
“The purpose of the amendment is simply to make sure the public is not left to foot the bill for an underused or empty stadium,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said Tuesday on the House floor.
DeLaney said he didn’t ask for a 100 percent guarantee because he wanted a “fair and measured approach.”
Man, I really want Ed DeLaney as my bank loan officer. “Now, you understand that you’re going to have to pay back the loan, right? Are you good for it? How about this: Can you at least promise that you’ll pay back half the loan, and we’ll eat the other half? I’m sure that will seem fair and measured to my bosses.”
Of course, repaying half the state’s costs would still be way better than even the team’s own projections, which couldn’t manage to come up with enough ticket tax money to pay off even that much. (And independent estimates, including my own, have it doing much, much worse.) Also of course, though, the devil is in the details here: If Indy Eleven’s owner could “repay” the money by pointing to, say, sales taxes that his fans are paying or something like that, this could quickly get into have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too territory. Plus the amendment still has to pass the state senate before it goes anywhere. But, Indiana, so be glad for even baby steps, I guess.