The failed Dunkin Donuts franchisee who says he wants to build a $500 million sports-medicine complex on the site of Indianapolis’s old airport terminal and include a sports venue of some kind now says he wants to bring an MLS franchise to town:
Craig Sanders, co-founder of Athletes Business Network, said he has been in talks with MLS to get a team for the planned 20,000-seat stadium near Washington Street and High School Road. He said he already has identified a management team to run the club if the MLS approves.
“We believe we have as good a chance as any (city) to make that happen,” Sanders said…
Sanders said it would cost ABN about $125 million in franchise fees and other costs to join the MLS, and the league still would need to do a market study to make sure the city could support a pro team.
Before you say, “Hey, doesn’t Indianapolis already have a minor-league soccer team, Indy Eleven, whose owner says he’s going to apply to move to MLS once somebody gives him $82 million for a new stadium,” I’ll save you a mouthful: Yes, yes it does. Which means Sanders is almost certainly just trying to stir up headlines for his project by throwing around the MLS name — hey, all it takes is a press release and a call to the league offices so you can say you’ve had “talks.” Well done, bankrupt donut magnate.
File this under “probably just trying to get publicity, but”: A developer who wants to build a $500 million (!) sports medical complex (!!) on the site of Indianapolis’s old airport terminal says he’s looking to build a 20,000-seat arena or stadium (!!!) as part of the plan. And Athletes Business Network Holdings co-founder Craig Sanders says he’s “having very active discussions with sports organizations outside of Indiana, professional and amateur,” though he wouldn’t say which ones.
Which ones is a huge question, since the Pacers and minor-league baseball Indians already have their own venues, and Sanders says he hasn’t had any talks with the owners of Indy Eleven, who want a new stadium but prefer it to be downtown. That leaves the NHL, maybe, but there’s been no talk of interest in Indianapolis by that league. The WNBA Fever are owned by the Pacers, so now we’re down to things like arena football and futsal, neither of which is going to be enough to anchor an arena. Nor are concerts, frankly, considering the venue would be competing with the Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse for events.
Still, as someone always on the lookout for outside-the-box ways to finance sports facilities that don’t involve massive public subsidies, “build it as a loss leader for a for-profit medical center” isn’t the craziest idea, quite. The airport board is expected to approve ABN tomorrow as the winning bidder to develop the site, so ball (or puck) is in their court now. They already have renderings!
When last we visited with Indy Eleven
owner president Peter Wilt back in May, he was cursing the Indiana state legislature for foiling his plan to build a new stadium with other people’s money, and vowing that he’ll be back, this isn’t over! Now, six months later … he’ll still be back, and this still isn’t over!
Wilt said the team remains hamstrung by its makeshift home at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium on the far-west side of downtown, which was built in 1982 for track and field events.
“It doesn’t give you long-term hope or opportunities for large success,” Wilt said. “We’re open to all thoughts, but renovation of Carroll Stadium doesn’t seem to be a workable solution for the team.”…
“It doesn’t even have concourses where people can take shelter in case of rain,” Wilt said. “We had to completely evacuate the stadium twice this year when we had storms roll through.”
Yeah, that doesn’t sound optimal. You know what you might want to do, then? Build a roof. Or, hell, take out a loan and build a new stadium yourself, instead of a ticket tax scheme that wouldn’t have come close to paying off the public’s costs.
Anyway, this mostly seems to be a preemptive attempt to walk back Wilt’s earlier comments that he’d consider renovating the existing stadium, because now that everything is back on the table, he wants a new stadium, dammit. But he’s open to all thoughts — except for those involving renovation or paying for a new stadium himself, because you don’t get “large success” that way.
And in the least surprising news of ever, Indy Eleven president Peter Wilt confirmed that just because the Indiana state legislature failed to give his team a big pile of money for a new or renovated stadium, he and his owner aren’t going to stop asking for a big pile of money in the future:
Indy Eleven will continue to pursue the first-division-quality stadium that you deserve and will showcase Indiana’s fastest growing sport.
Historically, the only way stadium subsidy demands ever go away is if the team owner gets tired of waiting and pays for things himself, or maybe once in a blue moon if the team is sold and the new guy decides it’s not worth fighting over. Otherwise, why the heck not keep asking? Especially when you’re just a couple of loopholes away from getting what you wanted in the first place?
You can stop wondering about who exactly is going to be asked to pay what in the revised bill to provide stadium renovations for Indy Eleven, because it ain’t happening, not this year anyway, reports the Indianapolis Star’s Mark Alesia:
A bill to renovate IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium for the North American Soccer League team didn’t make it through a conference committee on the last day of the legislative session.
“We just couldn’t get all the parties on the same page,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers. “Everybody was acting in good faith, willing to get something done. But it wasn’t going to work out this session.
“We were defining contributions and getting the right language with the state, IU, the team, the city. There were too many details from a financial standpoint for each of the parties. Honestly, we just ran out of time to nail everything down.”
That’s pretty definitely code for “nobody was happy with how much they were expected to pay,” but it’s also a clear signal that everyone involved is going to work on this some more and come back for next year’s session with an actual plan. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it means that the question of whether a minor-league soccer team really needs a $60 million stadium renovation, at least $20 million of it paid by taxpayers, gets a fair hearing in a public forum. If it just means everyone goes behind closed doors for a few months and hammers things out, less so. Mark Alesia, we’re counting on you to make sure it’s the former.
(And before anyone says anything: Yes, Indy Eleven has dreams of being an MLS franchise, and MLS commissioner Don Garber announced last week that the league would likely announce more expansion teams soon, bringing it to 28 franchises. That doesn’t mean that Indianapolis would necessarily get a team, but it’s another conversation piece to throw in the conversation hopper.)
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.