Indy Eleven announce private-public funded stadium for 2022

It wasn’t something many saw coming which seems to be the style for Indiana’s team. No one saw their last-minute bid for MLS in 2017. No one really saw how hard the team would push since before a ball was dropped at Michael Carroll stadium, the team’s first home, on getting a soccer-specific stadium in the Circle City. From the beginning, however, the goal wasn’t to continue to rent non-soccer friendly venues but as was made clear from Peter Wilt, Jeff Belskus and now this latest story released first on the Indiana Business Journal, the team wants to stop renting and start owning. 

The Proposal

The proposal breaks down like this. The team is seeking to use a total of 550 million dollars to renovate and build out an area that would hold apartments, offices, shops as well as a 20,000 seat stadium, the minimum a stadium needs for eligibility to be in Major League Soccer. Unrelated to the 550 million is the obvious 150 million needed to pay in order to join Major League Soccer. This plan (which can be more thoughly explained here) is the first proposal the team has put out that actually seems feasible, reasonable, and realistic for the area.

The aspect of the public/private partnership has always seemed like a risk. The previously proposed 85 million dollar stadium was structured almost exclusively with public money that would be paid back with a usage tax on things involved with the stadium as well as a hotel that would be built near the stadium that would likely be used for visiting fans and the visiting team. This proposal puts more down on the spreading out what would need to come back to pay the bonds while also seeing an increase of money being used to build the stadium privately.

Lucas Oil Stadium

It’s been mentioned countless times but Lucas Oil Stadium, for better or worse, is something that will haunt the city of Indianapolis as well as the state of Indiana for years to come. The deal that financed the stadium saw Indianapolis, Marion County, as well as other counties, contribute tax dollars towards building a fortress to keep arguably the biggest business in Indianapolis IN Indianapolis, the Colts. Years removed from this, taxpayers will be unfortunately paying on Lucas Oil Stadium (and still the RCA Dome) like it was bad student loans for years to come while things like roads, schools, crime, and more continue to grow in severity.

Indy Eleven isn’t asking for money to be taken away from those services. Unfortunately for them though, as has been said many times before, Indy Eleven is a victim of circumstance.

Many discussions on this topic have led to people feeling like those against any proposal the team has put out have been “anti-soccer.” No one is anti-soccer. When you look around you will see that Indy Eleven aren’t behind the 8-ball as much as it might feel at times and contribute to the community in Indianapolis and surrounding areas more than we see. The folks against the deal see the proposal on paper and then look to the multi-million dollar public money investment the city has already made and can’t get themselves to feel okay doing that again.

This isn’t an issue of soccer. The issues surrounding this deal are the issues of what Lucas Oil Stadium and the finances of that stadium have caused. Indy Eleven, unfortunately, has been given oversized hand-me-downs and asked to wear them until they grow up a little more. Their first season in Lucas Oil Stadium saw a tick up in average attendance from the 8,000 mark to anywhere between 10,000 to 12,000 on average. With fewer midweek games this season, that average should hold steady if not go up another few thousand as knowledge of their location spreads.

Broad Ripple?

One solution which was passed along this morning through an exclusive with the IndyStar was the possibility of the team buying up the now closed Broad Ripple High School area and using that as the launching point for “Eleven Park”, the name of the development.

In a letter from Ersal Ozdemir:

Ozdemir outlined in the letter four elements of a potential deal: His company, Keystone Group, would either buy the campus or sign a lease with IPS; Keystone and its partners would develop the 16-acre site; IPS would have the option of using the stadium on Friday nights for football games; a public school would open on the site.

Tim Swarens – Indy Star

The area seems in massive need of development. The issue with this proposal stands more with what has made Indianapolis a positive event hosting space.

If you ask many tourists and visitors about their trip to Indy, many will tell you the walkability of the city is a massive plus for hosting events. The fact that a few blocks away from each other sit the home of the NBA’s Pacers and the NFL’s Colts help keep tourist from feeling lost and confused when navigating the city. A proposed deal to move the team to Broad Ripple area, which would still be “Indianapolis” proper but would mean some may have to drive some distance to visit the stadium, doesn’t seem favorable for the team as well as the future of this deal.

Could Lucas Oil Stadium be made more soccer-specific?

It’s hard to know without asking what kind of work goes into making Lucas Oil Stadium a true multi-use facility. The venue has hosted a Super Bowl, concerts, NFL games, as well as NCAA Championships. However, when it came for the first season of Indy Eleven inside the multi-use facility by the later parts of the season, the team as well as the fans were forced to watch the ball be kicked around barely visible soccer lines being masked by massively visible football lines. This created what could gently be put as an “eyesore” and was put into being a “meme” for many of the opposing fans who would watch their team play inside of Lucas Oil Stadium on ESPN +, the United Soccer League’s primary streaming source.

It was made clear in the IBJ report as well as anyone who understands basic economics, but the team isn’t made to play inside of Lucas Oil Stadium long-term. However, it would be very interesting to see what happens if the CIB and others involved granted Indy Eleven more power with the operations of the building and things like the field and football lines would be replaced with a proper soccer specific adjustments. If Lucas Oil Stadium was made more fan, sport, and team friendly it might allow for Indy Eleven to prolong the move out of the stadium and give CIB a better grasp on what might be the future of Lucas Oil Stadium should the Colts leave the state in the later parts of 2030.

Reaction to the deal

It’s hard to say if there is a better deal out there than what was proposed by Indy Eleven. Obviously, for a city and state literally tapped out on public money for sports stadiums, it’s hard to see the future of a deal that asks for public money. With that in mind, however, the deal in question does have something others have not: Realism.

The deal proposed is the most realistic idea that has come out of the front offices of Indy Eleven since the team began pursuing a soccer specific stadium. The proposal seems more realistic for the area and matches similar aspects that the city already deals with (like Indy Eleven being leased the stadium by the Capital Improvement Board much like the Pacers do now). It sees the team covering operation costs of the stadium and it offers a branch to connect the team not only to the city, but the state as well.

It’s not great. It still involves a massive load of public money but as we start in 2019 with the shape of finances in Indianapolis and Indiana I’m unsure that you see a much better deal come forward.

There is still a large amount of information unknown about this deal. Where will it be? What money is going where? No matter the debate, this is the first time we have seen the team put a real effort behind making a proposal like this and It’s time for a true debate about this topic. This deal is no longer an unrealistic dream but a real opportunity to have Indianapolis put a stamp on the future of soccer.

Author

Brian Cook

Brian has followed Indy Eleven as a supporter since their birth and began covering the team in a number of capacities in 2015. He can be reached at brianfrederickcook@gmail.com or @SoccerwithBrian on Twitter.