Saturday, April 23, 2005

Indy Mayor Puts Stadium Over Politics

With a deadline looming just a week away, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson last Friday acquiesced to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ demand that the State of Indiana be in charge of building a new stadium for the Indianapolis Colts. It was the biggest obstacle still remaining to starting the project.

It was a major concession by the mayor, since the city has had control of all other similar construction projects, including the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse, and Victory Field. But he realized that it was the only way the stadium project had a chance to succeed.

So to Peterson’s credit, he placed the good of Central Indiana over politics, meaning that there is now a decent chance the Colts will get a new home and Indianapolis will get a bigger, better convention center.

The entire project will cost about $900 million. Originally, the plan called for much of that money to come from expanded gambling in the state, but unfortunately, Statehouse lawmakers balked at that idea. Some said if Indianapolis wanted a new stadium, then the city and the Colts should pay for it.

The Colts did agree to chip in $100 million. But Peterson pointed out that the majority of fans, 75 percent of them, who pay to see the Colts play come from outside Marion County.

Earlier this month the mayor and lawmakers worked out a funding plan that would increase restaurant taxes by one percent in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties. The county governments would get to keep half that revenue with the other half going to construction costs for the stadium

In addition, hotel and motel taxes would increase. This increase would most affect visitors to the city and would not be out of line with what other major cities charge.

Unfortunately for Indianapolis, small-market cities tend to have less bargaining power with their sports franchises than the biggest metropolitan areas do. They often get stuck paying the price for their stadiums in full. Indianapolis’ deal with the Colts seems to be reasonable under those circumstances.

Although Peterson called his concession a “bitter pill,” in the end, it doesn’t really matter who oversees the construction of the stadium, as long as it gets built. The board in charge of construction gets to award lucrative contracts, and so politically, it’s a plus for whatever entity controls it. But the end results still mean a new stadium, no matter who controls the construction of it.

And that is what Peterson said after agreeing to relinquish control to the state. He is a democrat and the governor is a republican. It was a political concession he knew he had to make if he wanted to see his stadium plans come to fruition.

And, in the end, he said, “I need to set aside my feelings and do what's right for our city and do what's best to get this project done.”

Of course, it’s not a done deal yet. It still has to pass both chambers of the General Assembly and the taxing plan has to be approved by the City-County Council and all of the surrounding county governments. But the major obstacle is now gone, so it is far more likely that the stadium will now be built.

If it is finally approved, construction on the new retractable-roof stadium could begin by mid-summer. It could be ready in time for the 2008 Colts season.

Benefits to Central Indiana are great. Indianapolis' position as a big convention city would be strengthened by expanding the Convention Center. The expansion would occupy the site where the RCA Dome is now located. A new stadium could also liven up the area south of the Dome with new commercial and residential developments. “That tends to happen in the area around these kinds of developments,” said Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell.

Indianapolis is already considered by many to be the gem of the Midwest. It has a lot going for it. It is a clean, vibrant city with a donut of counties surrounding it that are all growing economically as well as in population. And what’s good for the city tends to be good for the suburbs.

It doesn’t matter which government entity oversees the project, as long as it gets done. And Peterson’s compromise last Friday was a bold move that got the project back on track.

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