Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Indy Eleven Stadium Update with Jeff Belskus

Shortly after Jeff Belskus became the president of the Indy Eleven, I was informed that he not only had read my series of articles on the details of an Indy Eleven stadium, but that he was also impressed with those articles. To further add to my surprise, Mr. Belskus agreed to answer some of my questions about the stadium. Similar to the way that I conducted the Peter Wilt Exit Interview through email exchanges, I wanted to give Jeff the opportunity to answer the questions with as much or as little as he wanted. Additionally, he was just getting into the job and its responsibilities and a new world of soccer for him so I expected that it might take him awhile to answer and hoped that a more laid back approach to my questions would result in more honest and insightful responses. So I provided an initial series of questions related to the Funding, Location, Design Status, Ticket Prices, and his Experience. I realized at some point that my continued interest in this subject matter and my excitement in getting the questions answered by someone in the Front Office resulted in a series of questions that was too extensive and over-reaching. While I would love to definitively know what locations the team are most heavily considering, I also understand the difficulty in answering those locations honestly due to the potential issues with competing investors purchasing those sites for the sole purpose of increasing the cost to the team. So those were the first questions to be eliminated. I've also had conversations with Peter Wilt in the past about ticket prices being as much art as science in a stadium where they are already playing so to speculate on prices in a new stadium that could be at least a couple years down the road were unnecessary and so they were eliminated too.

So I trimmed it down to the topics and questions that I felt were most likely to be answered and resubmitted. Recently, Mr. Belskus provided answers to all of those questions. That also means that I still have a series of questions for the next time Mr. Belskus feels like answering some more questions about the stadium. Until that day arrives, the following is Indy Eleven President Belskus' responses to my questions.

1. Given that there has been some hesitancy by the legislature, some in the media, and taxpayers and that there seems to be a growing trend against publicly‐funded stadiums, at what point does Ersal and the team decide to forego the legislative process and seek funding through completely private financing? Would a failure in the 2017 legislative session be the final piece to move ahead with trying to fund privately given that the legislature showed this year (and in 2014) that this kind of bill doesn’t get much traction in the shorter non‐budgetary sessions or would the team wait again for 2019?

JB: A new stadium will be a fabulous addition to the city of Indianapolis and for the people of central Indiana. I’m very optimistic and enthusiastic about the potential for a multiuse soccer stadium being built in Indianapolis within the next 5 years. It is important to remember that we received 2 positive responses from the legislature in 2015. While the responses were different (House version and a Senate version) it indicates that our legislative leadership understands the benefits to this community for a new stadium and the importance of soccer. It should be noted that no new taxes are being requested. The stadium will be paid for via the taxes generated from the use and operation of the stadium. We continue to examine all viable options for the funding and building of a stadium. Should a proposal to build a stadium via private financing be presented or developed, it certainly would be given full consideration.

2. How are last year’s differences between the House version of the bill and the Senate version of the bill being discussed and resolved?

JB: After the 2015 legislation died in Conference Committee, the two Chambers discussed the differences and the options going forward. They remain open to proposals that resolve the difference and have asked us to describe what we think works best. With this input, I’m confident the House and Senate will resolve any differences they may have.

Not to be overlooked is the City of Indianapolis which will play an important role in this process. We are actively engaged in conversations with various leadership groups from the City. This project will require cooperation from the City and the State and we are encouraged by the early conversations with City leadership.

Screen capture from Stadium proposal video
3. Related to the location piece of the stadium design, how far along has the Populous design progressed given that there are different challenges to building a stadium at different site locations? How far along has that design progressed? Just the conceptual renderings that have been presented by the team or has detailed design begun? 30% complete? 60% complete? How long is it projected that it would take Populous to finish the design once the final decision is made for location and financing?

JB: We continue to examine stadium design options for various locations. They are all very high level and conceptual at this point. No investment in detailed designs will be made or can be made until we are certain about the location and ready to proceed with the project. The design team will make this a priority once given the green light and can have enough design completed to break ground in a very short period of time once given the green light.

4. Populous has worked on numerous stadiums throughout the country, including the rehabilitation and upgrade of the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the recently released renderings of the proposed stadium for the Minnesota United. The Coliseum cost $52M to renovate and the Minnesota United stadium is projected as $150M. What are some of the key design features that gets the Indy Eleven a stadium for $85M instead of $150M in relatively similar markets?

JB: Much of the construction budget is dependent on the size of the stadium and the location. The $85M is a very early budget estimate and will be refined once detailed design plans have been developed. Budget aside; we are committed to building a first class stadium that provides a great experience for our fans.

5. If the stadium does become privately‐funded, are there additional features that might be eliminated to lower the cost even further?

JB: All appropriate options will be considered.

6. Has there been any consideration of incorporating a parking garage or mixed‐use facilities into the design?

JB: Yes. While a parking garage is not our preferred solution, depending on the site, one could be incorporated into the design. We will make the best use of the space we have available and are committed to bringing a first class stadium to Indianapolis and to our fans.

7. Has there been any thought to include park features or futsal courts around the stadium to bring the public into the area around the facilities?

JB: Yes. Same as above. Much of this will depend on the site and the amount of land available.

8. How do you anticipate that your experiences at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will help the Eleven’s stadium procurement process? What experiences at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are directly related to the stadium process? Pagoda? Project 100? Others?

JB: My previous experience will be very beneficial to this process. Project 100 is particularly relevant. As a result of my experience, I understand the legislative process and personally know many of the people involved. Like most dealings in life, having a personal relationship and knowledge benefits all parties. Further, I believe I have credibility with our elected officials based on past dealings. They know me as an honest and trustworthy individual who is very straightforward.

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