Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rethinking the Stadium for Indiana

With the news last week of Kristian's move and subsequent start in the CONCACAF Champions League final for the Montreal Impact, somewhat lost in the Indy Eleven news cycle was that HB 1273 was put to bed without ever making it to a full vote.  The bill cleared the House committee, cleared the House, cleared the Senate committee, cleared the Senate, but just couldn't make it through the joint committee charged with finding the common ground between two very distinct versions of the bill.  Without getting into the details of both of them, in essence, the House bill was for an $85M new soccer specific stadium and the Senate bill allocated $20M for the rehabilitation of Carroll Stadium.  While the team continued to praise the effort from the legislature, the difference between the two bills was a steep uphill climb and kind of felt like the way to kill a bill without having to explicitly say no.  Trying to find the compromise between the two before time ran out on the legislative session just couldn't happen.

So where do things go from here?  I previously weighed in on locations that I thought might be possible candidates for the team.  Some were far fetched and undesired (Military Park) and others made more sense and were more realistic (southwest of Lucas Oil and the 16th and Fall Creek Parkway sites).  I've provided my thoughts on the stadium before about the location and direction (herehere, here, here, and here) and on the Indy Eleven subreddit, but I want to do at least one more since we've got some time after the team's bye week and I'm not working on writing my thoughts of their last game.

Politically, I'm a registered Republican (and there goes some of the readers...).  Realistically, and based on my recent voting record, I'm Libertarian. I've stolen borrowed a quote several times over the years to describe myself "as someone who describes his personal politics as fiscally conservative and socially libertarian..."  I tell you that because the fiscally conservative Libertarian side of me says that this shouldn't have even been a bill.  The Eleven are a private business and they should get financing like any other private business and the government shouldn't be involved in things like a soccer specific stadium.  The part of me that really wants the stadium says, "but that's what everybody else is doing, especially locally."  So my fan side is rationalizing it by saying that the team is financing it like a private business.  It just wants to use the Bank of Indiana instead of the Indiana Members Credit Union (one of the team's partners) because they can get better rates through the Bank of Indiana.  That's probably an oversimplification, but it's hard being a fan who REALLY wants a new stadium and a Libertarian.

Looking long-term though, I can't see that the legislature will ever agree to act like the bank for the Indy Eleven.  As a soccer fan, that's absolutely upsetting given what Lucas Oil costs, with much fewer opportunities to be used than one sized as a soccer-specific stadium.  It also has a very "aren't those soccer fans cute for wanting a stadium" feel to it.  Oh, let's be honest, that pisses me off.  The team was asking for a funding mechanism that was similar to other stadiums in the city at nearly 10% of the cost of Lucas Oil with a privately funded backstop and I never had the feeling that it would receive final approval.  Moving forward, I think that the team has to figure out a way to come up with at least half of the funds privately for it to have any chance to get help from the State and/or City.

Another year lost could also mean that some of the locations I discussed could also be gone the next time the process starts again unless the team/Ersal preemptively purchase the land.  There was an implication shortly after the announcement that the team would evaluate other options, including locations outside of downtown, perhaps in the suburbs.  I can't remember who to attribute that thought, but if it came from the team, I think it's purely political grandstanding.  I don't personally know Ersal Ozdemir, nor do I personally know Peter Wilt, but I've listened to enough interviews to know that Peter learned his lesson with the location of Toyota Park for the Chicago Fire.  Granted, the distance to the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview is drastically different than to the Indianapolis suburb of, say, Westfield or Avon, but downtown Indy is the right location for the stadium.  Peter catches enough grief for Toyota Park (which was a really good deal for the team) that I don't think he does the same thing here.

For the moment, I'll forget about all of my concerns of constructability and where the team will play in the interim if the new stadium is located where the existing Carroll Stadium is located, with a change in orientation to fix the setting sun problem.  I'll assume that for a year (maybe two depending on the construction duration and weather), Ben Davis High School's football stadium could be used as a second temporary home for the team.  I use Ben Davis because, well, I'm an alum and I know that it can seat 9,000 people (5,500 on home side + 3,500 on visitor).  So it might actually be fairly easy to get it to the same capacity as Carroll, with potentially better concession and restroom facilities than what Carroll is providing.  Even if not expanded further, this is large enough to cover the season-ticket base with fewer single game tickets.  A number that might be reduced anyway because of the location.  I'll assume a reduced number is also acceptable for a year.

The existing Carroll Stadium site has seemingly developed a good working relationship for the City, IUPUI, and Indy Eleven and one that could continue to provide benefit in the future.  The stadium grandstand was shown to be demolished in the most recent IUPUI Campus Master Plan with only the track and the soccer field remaining.  The Eleven saved it from the wrecking ball because they needed a place to start playing and they needed it quickly.  The school wanted to keep it as green space, but everybody seems to want to be able to better link downtown with the surrounding neighborhoods.  In this case, there is a disconnect between downtown and the IUPUI campus due to West Street (a pedestrian bridge has been discussed in the past) and between the IUPUI campus and the neighborhood of Haughville to the west due to the White River.  Part of the plan is to convert both Washington and New York Streets into two-way roads from their current one-way directions.

What if the Indy Eleven became the linchpin between those goals; reuse the existing Carroll Stadium site and serve as an economic driver between downtown, IUPUI, and Haughville?

To start, the existing site has to be gutted and rebuilt to meet everybody's needs.  I stated before and it may be semantics, but a renovation of Carroll Stadium that includes the track is a "track facility that hosts soccer games" even if the predominant use is soccer. That's just my opinion, no matter what other changes they make.  So redo the site to provide the amenities that the team want, like actual locker rooms with running water for the teams, adequate restrooms and concession stands, grass field, and the other amenities expected in modern sports facilities.  After that, work into the design that the stadium be a mixed-use building like so many of the new apartment complexes going in around the city.   Depending on the new orientation of the stadium, both the revised New York Street and the University Boulevard sides of the stadium could have street-front shops like the example below, which is close to campus.

Instead of apartments above, you have a stadium.  Hell, have apartments too where rent includes a season ticket, if it helps get the stadium built.  Fill the shops with businesses that cater to both soccer fans, as well as college students.  A soccer-specific bar (that should be easy), small restaurants, maybe even a grocery store since there aren't too many in that area.  Using the same funding mechanism that was included in the House bill, that means that every dollar that goes through the stadium and all of those businesses can be used to pay back the loan.  This could make the funding much more palatable to the legislature.  However, with these kinds of businesses built directly into the stadium, this creates even more potential for investment from private financiers.

I hear you. A grocery store in the stadium?  Yes.  Sometimes you have to think way the hell out of the box and that may be where we've reached to make the stadium a reality.  While a grocery store may not be the norm, placing restaurants within stadiums has been done.  Levi Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers includes a restaurant (a high-end one I believe), as does the new Yankee Stadium, which houses a Hard Rock Cafe.

This type of arrangement would raise the question of whether IU continues to own it and lease it to the Eleven or whether the Eleven buy the land from the school and develop it as they see fit.  I also don't know how much this would raise the cost of the stadium to add these kinds of details to the stadium.  However, I still think the team needs to continue to focus on a downtown location, figure out a way to get private investors on board, even if that means designing mix-use features into the stadium, and the location of Carroll Stadium is growing on me provided the logistics during the construction phase can be determined.

Maybe one day I'll be able to write about the actual stadium and my experience in it instead of potential locations and grocery stores.

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