Saturday, June 04, 2005

Snag Should Not Delay Stadium

Back in late April, during the waning hours of the Indiana General Assembly, state legislators pulled a couple of rabbits out of the hat by rescuing some bills that, if not yet dead, were moribund.

The bill that wouldn’t go away, of course, was the daylight saving time bill, which has finally become law with the governor’s signature last month. The other major piece of legislation saved from oblivion at the last minute was the funding bill for a new Indianapolis Colts stadium and convention center.

With passage of the funding legislation and creation of a new state board charged with overseeing its construction, the stadium project seemed to be off to a smooth start, with construction projected to begin by August.

But late last week Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels were at odds over who was going to pay the Colts $48 million to terminate their present lease agreement. During its negotiations with the Colts last year, city officials had agreed to buy out the lease.

But Peterson said he believed the money was part of the funding legislation passed by the General Assembly. Daniels says it isn’t so and that the mayor should know better if he has read the law.

With a negations deadline looming, Gov. Daniels says the project will get underway on schedule. But, he said, the lease buy-out is up to the city. He did, however, say the new state board can perhaps find ways to cut corners and help the city out.

Peterson, meanwhile, said that there absolutely will not be any more tax money thrown at the project. He believes the amount raised in public financing is sufficient to cover both the construction costs and the lease termination fee.

The entire project is expected to cost $900 million. The stadium is scheduled for completion by the start of the Colts’ 2008 season, with the convention center expansion due for completion by 2010.

Meanwhile, the Colts say they expect a check for $48 million as agreed and they don’t really care who signs it. But as part of the agreement reached with the city, the Colts must ante up $100 million for the project. So, am I missing something here?

If the Colts owe $100 million as their contribution to the stadium and the city owes $48 million to the Colts to terminate their current lease, then a little subtraction will yield a net total of $52 million owed by the Colts.

However the three parties work it out, it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem, which is probably why the governor has stressed the project will not be delayed because of it.

And that’s good news, because Central Indiana will benefit greatly from the expansion project. Indianapolis and all the surrounding suburban counties reap major financial benefits from convention business that draws people into the area from all over the country.

Indianapolis is already a hugely popular convention destination. But the biggest and most lucrative convention business must go elsewhere because the current convention center just isn’t big enough.

The seven suburban counties are being asked to levy a one percent food and beverage tax to help fund the project. The counties get to keep half the revenue generated from such a tax.

It’s a win-win situation. The counties get added revenue, and the stadium project gets needed funding from the counties. And it’s not unreasonable to ask the counties to levy the small tax increase because most season ticket-holders come from outside Marion County.

Twenty-five years ago, Indianapolis’ nickname was Naptown. Some called it “Indianoplace.” Its reputation was of a sleepy little Midwestern city that rolled up its sidewalks after five o’clock. It’s only claim to fame was the Indy 500.

Today, Indianapolis is a growing, energetic, convention destination with a vibrant nightlife. It has enough entertainment venues to satisfy most tastes, from Broadway plays to jazz clubs to major league sporting events.

But in order to maintain and expand its convention traffic in the future, it needs a much bigger and more up-to-date convention center. It also needs to keep its major league football franchise. That’s why the petty bickering over who pays for the lease buy-out needs to end.

Suburban counties get some of the convention and sports business generated by the city. That’s why they need to do their part to make sure the new facilities get built.

The governor will be in Johnson County this Thursday to discuss the stadium project. Interested parties are encouraged to attend.

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