Thursday, June 1, 2023

Eleven Park Groundbreaking - From My Perspective

Today was one of those days that many fans wondered whether it would ever come. There are still plenty of construction hurdles to go over before fans will sit (or stand) in a brand new Eleven Park to cheer on the team, but a ceremonial turning of dirt is a public indication of the team taking another couple of steps in the process of taking a factory (and stadium and cemetery before that) and converting it into a soccer stadium, hotel, apartments, and businesses. The club said they would make this step in May, and by the thinnest of margins, they met the self-imposed deadline, something they received grief about with another of their previous stadium deadlines.

Peter Wilt first talked about the potential of an Indy Eleven soccer-specific stadium back in 2013, which set off a flurry of activity from the haters who couldn't fathom a reality where a professional soccer team would be successful enough to warranty any kind of soccer-specific stadium, let alone one that could seat 20,000 people. The fact that Peter did it before the team had ever played a single game made it even worse for that segment of the population.

I've talked about the stadium ad nauseum on this site since the club's first season, including calling it Eleven Park in January of 2015, and suggesting, a few months later, an idea about additional developments around (or within) the stadium to make it more palatable to the masses and to help with being able to afford it. I feel like I have been talking about this stadium forever, with an ever increasing doubt that the stadium would ever come to fruition. Today was another step to proving me wrong.

In the presence of more suits than I could count, including mayoral and gubernatorial suits, Indy Eleven and Keystone managed to get the attention of Indianapolis' mainstream media outlets so that it wasn't just a handful of independent media representatives like me. Under a tent packed full of legislators, fellow sports team executives, players (thanks for being there Rebellon and Dambrot), board members of the BYB, and the media, the club gave notice that the idea of a 20,000 seat stadium is going to come to fruition. It's many years later than most of us had hoped, but it does look like it is actually going to happen.

Admittedly, and I said this to Indy's President and CEO, Greg Stremlaw, I think the summer of 2025 goal to have the team's first game is optimistic. Having Populous and Browning Day (and many others) finish the design, finishing the demolition (which I expect to include remediation and transferal of the bones found from the old burial grounds), and constructing the stadium given the current construction environment that includes material shortages and long lead times on all equipment, seems like a difficult goal to reach. I assume that both the design and construction teams associated with this project have evaluated all of this, but it still seems optimistic to me.

When I asked, Stremlaw indicated that the Eleven Park development will be constructed in phases, with the first phase including the stadium, the parking garage, and what they are calling Tower 1. Including Tower 1 in the first phase will allow for businesses and restaurants to begin providing income for the development, since the taxes generated in the development will be used to pay for it, per the law signed by Governor Holcomb. This makes sense, but also means that fans, naturally, should expect to deal with construction activities when the stadium opens as the other portions of the development are constructed around the site. He didn't indicate a timeline for the other components of the site, but I think those are going to be highly dependent on time and the money generated from the components of Phase 1. However, I think (but don't hold me to it) even getting just Tower 1 constructed will satisfy the requirements of the law to have a development within a mile of the stadium. I don't recall there being an indication of how much development, just that there needed to be a development. 

As far as what was said today, Rafael Sanchez (not that one, this one) was the master of ceremonies, and if felt like both he and Ersal were giving a history lesson on Indy Eleven. In some ways, it felt unnecessary because the team has been around for a decade, but I had to allow that there were quite possibly people in attendance that were doing so because of an invite to a corporate office and weren't fully aware of the history, or even that a team existed. Though that could just me making an incorrect guess about the audience.

Speaking of the audience, here are the people that were explicitly mentioned: 

  • Ersal & family
  • Governor Eric Holcomb
  • Mayor Joe Hogsett
  • Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers
  • Council President Bob Osili
  • Councillor Kristin Jones (development will be within her district - map here)
  • Greg Stremlaw
  • Secretary of State Diego Morales
  • Attorney General Todd Rokita
  • Indiana Senate members
  • Indiana House of Representative members
  • Mayor Brainard (Carmel)
  • Mayor Collier (Lawrence)
  • Mayor Jensen (Noblesville)
  • Mayor Ballard (former Indianapolis mayor)
  • Mayor Cook (Westfield)
  • There were also representatives from the other sports teams in town. 

As I've talked about in my last article about the stadium, the location where we all stood today has had a long and complicated history. A history that has included being Greenlawn Cemetery, Federal League Park, and Diamond Chain. A history that includes the burial of Union soldiers and the City's black residents, the latter of which that might not have been properly relocated to other cemeteries as the development of downtown progressed into the cemetery. Both Ersal and Mayor Hogsett made a reference to that history, and Stremlaw indicated that there will be an archeologist on staff during the construction, all of which gives me some faith that the demolition and construction of the site will be done properly. Ersal stated, "As we move forward, it is our obligation to honor this place and its legacy in all we do." Mayor Hogsett was more explicit, stating,

"We recognize the significance of all that came before on this spot. This area served as one of the earliest burial sites for the City of Indianapolis. And in death, as in life, black residents were segregated. But in reimagining this as a space of community, commerce, and entertainment, we have an opportunity. With a more complete knowledge of the past, we can build a future that is more broadly prosperous, more broadly inclusive. ... Downtown is growing and it is changing rapidly. That's a good thing. We should change. We should grow. And in this time of change, we have an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to do, and to be, better than ever."

As Keystone and Indy Eleven embark on an estimated $1,000,000,000 development, both Governor Holcomb and Mayor Hogsett praised Ersal for his vision, and fortitude to embark on this path.

"Hearing of your passion that was converted into an idea that was converted into a vision that was converted into a mission and every step of the way, you never threw in the towel, never took a step back, you just leaned further in no matter what hurdle was thrown your way, or yellow card was thrown your way." - Governor Holcomb

"Only those who dare to fail greatly, will ever achieve greatly. Thank you for daring to fail." - Mayor Hogsett

As I've stated before, playing a game in the Eleven Park stadium, and whatever it will be called at that time once naming rights are determined, seems optimistic today. However, for those of us who have been thinking about this stadium for the past ten seasons, today marked an important milestone in the path to the stadium. There are a lot of other milestones yet to come, but it's important to look at this one and realize that this one happened as a result of not just the people that were on that stage, but also the people who weren't there. Peter Wilt. Molly Kruger. Tom Dunsmore. John Koluder. The early BYB leadership. The grassroots media that was prevalent in those early seasons. 

The team took root in this community because of their effort. This groundbreaking is also a result of countless hours of enthusiasm from fans for a team that has moved from Carroll Stadium to Lucas Oil Stadium and back to Carroll Stadium, and will soon play at Eleven Park.

1 comment:

Don Thompson said...

Another step on still a long journey. But a great next step.