Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Will Eleven Park still be downtown?

In just over a week, the USL Championship season will begin, with the Indy Eleven kicking off the season March 7th in Memphis. At which point, my focus on this site will return to talking about on-field items and less about off-field items. Before that happens though, I have one more post about Eleven Park that I want to discuss. Stay patient through the text heavy first half of this post, the graphics will make their appearance in the second half.

Photo: Indy Eleven
For as long as I have been discussing the Indy Eleven stadium on this site, I have always maintained that I fully believe the stadium will be in downtown Indianapolis. Whatever advice Ersal Ozdemir is no longer heading from Peter Wilt, I have always felt that Peter ingrained in Ersal that part of the problem with the Chicago Fire ended up being its location in Bridgeview without any public transportation to the facility. Suburbs are great, but it seemed to hurt attendance at the games when they weren't being successful on the field. So despite other locations periodically being presented as possibilities, the Lafayette Square Mall location and the former Broad Ripple High School location for example, have always felt to me that those were posturing to be able to say, "we're looking at all locations." Recently though, Indy Eleven President and CEO Greg Stremlaw has taken to stating that "while we have narrowed the sites for Eleven three locations inside Marion County, we will not be commenting on any specific sites as this process continues."

"Within Marion County..." He does not say "within downtown Indianapolis." Probably intentionally vague, but factual. When Senate Enrolled Act 7 went into effect, some potential sites in the donut counties around Indianapolis went off the board because the language in the law required the stadium to be located within Marion County. However, Marion County consists of 403 square miles of land (or 257,919 acres) available for a stadium development that probably, ideally, could be done with around 20 to 30 acres.

Last August, I sat down and placed the Eleven Park rendering on some of the more higher profile sites that have been discussed to determine if the team's latest stadium rendering would even fit on the sites, with and without the ancillary development pieces. Some work, some do not. Earlier this month, I updated that post with the announcement in the IBJ that the Diamond Chain plant was going to be shuddered, leaving the property to be available for future development. The favorites continue to be the old GM Stamping Plant, the old Valspar lot, and the Lafayette Square Mall site, with the Diamond Chain site gaining some momentum after the article.
  • The Stamping Plant site is now potentially going into legal action between the City of Indianapolis and the current owner, Ambrose. This could be a long, drawn out process that I think the team will want to avoid. 
  • The Valspar lot is now owned by the Indiana Finance Authority and recent IBJ articles have indicated that the Indy Eleven have not been in contact with them regarding the site. What has never been conveyed, and I'm sure that I would never be able to get anybody to indicate on record, is whether the Keystone Group has ever been in contact with the Indiana Finance Authority. The Keystone Group being Ersal Ozdemir's other company and would allow him to discuss the site with the IFA and be able to have all parties say that the Indy Eleven have not been in contact. With the Eleven Park now incorporating a development, only a part of which will include the stadium, this seems like something that could have occurred. However, if we take it at face value that the team and the IFA haven't discussed the site, this would seem like it isn't a possible location for the stadium as those conversations should have happened by now.
  • The Lafayette Square Mall site is massive and in need of a lift; a "transformational neighborhood development," if you will. I'm becoming less and less convinced that this isn't one of the front-runners, but that's mostly because of the downtown sites' issues.
  • I'll briefly mention the Diamond Chain site here because I don't think it's in the running. For one, it's a recent addition and Greg Stremlaw has repeatedly said that they "have narrowed the sites for Eleven three locations inside Marion County" long before this site seems to have become available. Additionally, the IBJ article about the Diamond Chain site indicated that the company was going to take roughly 2 years to complete the closing process. Indy Eleven aren't going to wait that long for that site. 

So I'm starting to reconsider my stance on the Lafayette Square Mall site because I felt it was too far away from downtown Indianapolis, but I'm still not entirely convinced it's one of the favored locations. However, if I'm willing to expand my thinking beyond the downtown area, I recently stumbled upon some property that might make more sense and still check all the boxes. So what does the site need and what are some of the goals that have been mentioned through the years?
  • A "transformational neighborhood development"
  • Within Marion County
  • Access to public transportation
  • Significant amount of acreage to allow for stadium, development, parking, hotel, etc.

What if that property was near the Indianapolis International Airport?

"By the airport?," you say. We've been down this road before.

True. There were quite a few odd things about that proposal and the developer in charge of it. As a reminder though, here were the highlights of that proposal:
  • $500M sports medicine complex
  • 5 medical office building
  • Two 250-room hotels
  • 20,000 seat stadium
  • Located between High School Road and I-465, north of Sam Jones Expressway

Now let me remind you of a few highlights about Eleven Park:
  • $550M development
  • 150,000 square feet of office space
  • 100,000 square feet of retail space
  • 600 apartment units
  • 200 room boutique hotel
  • 20,000 seat stadium

Eerily similar (or not), don't you think? Well that original property by the airport has already been purchased and is currently under construction for two large office buildings. What if, though, there were some other land available around the airport (and obviously within Marion County), in a neighborhood that could use some "transformational development," and also has public transportation around it? Oh, you mean like all of this land north of the Airport, wedged between the railroad, Washington Street, and High School Road?

Owned by the Indianapolis Airport Authority...
Yes, that is a lot of acreage owned by the Indianapolis Airport Authority. Land that I was told the IAA was forced to buy for noise separation between the airport and homes. Land that I can't imagine they want to hold onto for very long. Land that somebody might be able to purchase for significantly cheaper than land in downtown Indianapolis.

So while the last airport development proposal seemed to be an unrealistic venture, this may not be as far-fetched as I originally suspected. All that things that the previous developer's plan was missing at that time, Ersal Ozdemir now has thanks to Senate Enrolled Act 7.

With so much land available, I just found a location within it to place the stadium with dozens of acres still available for hotels, office space, retail space, parking, etc.
Screen Capture: Google Earth
In addition to being right next to the airport for visiting teams, the properties have easy access to I-465, I-70, I-65, and they sit along the proposed IndyGo Bus Rapid Transit Blue Line
Photo: IndyGo
"Nobody wants to go watch a game in that part of town, particularly the people from the North side of Indy."

Maybe, but what if I told you that from Grand Park (chosen since it's Indy's current training facility and a convenient stand-in for those northside residents) to Lucas Oil Stadium was estimated on Google Maps as a 34 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps

What if I then told you that from Grand Park to the Indianapolis Airport area was estimated on Google Maps as a 34 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps

Or that from the Fort Harrison area to the Indianapolis Airport development was estimated on Google Maps as a 30 minute drive?
Screen capture: Google Maps

I'm not saying that this is one of those three locations that Greg Stremlaw has referenced within Marion County, but going through this exercise for myself with the property, I'm not convinced it isn't either. For all of the advantages that the IBJ staff have over me in getting staff from the Indy Eleven to talk, when it comes to the stadium, the answers they receive are the same ones I receive. So it's really anybody's guess on where the team is looking to place the Eleven Park development. At this point, near the Indianapolis Airport seems just as logical as anywhere else I've evaluated over the years. 

The team announced last year that they wanted to be able to announce a location by the end of last year. With a clock ticking towards having "a tax area...initially established not later than July 1, 2022," this year should provide some kind of direction on where the development will be located. 

I think the area around the airport might be moving up in my list of top locations.