Stadium tax-district plan advanced by Indy City-County Council committee

After a three-hour meeting in a room packed with supporters of the Indy Eleven, a City-County Council committee on Tuesday narrowly advanced a proposal pushed by Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration for a taxing district on the east side of downtown to support a potential Major League Soccer stadium.

Members of the eleven-member Rules and Public Policy Committee approved the professional sports development area, or PSDA, by a 6-4 vote with one abstention, sending the proposal to the full council for consideration at its June 3 meeting.

Only one of four Republicans on the committee, Josh Bain of District 21, voted in favor of the proposal.

“I want to thank the passionate residents who shared their perspectives tonight, as well as the members of the City-County Council’s Rules and Public Policy Committee for supporting Proposal 175 in a bipartisan way, showing that they believe in the potential to solidify our status as the greatest sports city in the country,” Hogsett said in a written statement issued after the vote.

Councilors who spoke ahead of the vote expressed little enthusiasm about voting in favor of the district, which is competing against a separate PSDA already approved by the council that would support a proposed soccer stadium by the Indy Eleven’s ownership along the east bank of the White River on the site of the now-razed Diamond Chain Manufacturing Co. facility.

“It pains me to say—my job is to do and tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear,” Councilor Dan Boots, an attorney, said prior to his vote, “I will be voting in favor of Proposal 175 and I encourage my fellow councilors to do so.”

Boots, a Democrat, noted beforehand that he grew up playing soccer, has four children in the sport and was previously a season ticketholder for the Eleven. He told attendees he had to cast aside his emotions and focus on the goal of securing an MLS team.

Boots also gave a list of demands he said he would fight for in the future of the MLS application, including that Indy Eleven and Keystone Group owner Ersal Ozdemir should be included as part of a future ownership group and the name “Indy Eleven” should be retained.

Chief Deputy Mayor Dan Parker pitched the tax district as Indianapolis’ only shot at securing a MLS team in Indianapolis. He said the mayor would not submit an application to MLS using the already-approved PSDA, which supports building a stadium on a former burial ground where remains have recently been uncovered.

In giving their reasoning for voting in favor, several councilors said the burial ground findings played a key role.

Councilor Carlos Perkins, a Democrat representing District 6, said he found records of a man he believed to be the founder of his church among those buried at Greenlawn Cemetery, which occupied part of the White River site in the 1800s before being occupied by the Diamond Chain plant for more than a century. He said he was voting in favor of the proposal to honor those buried, not necessarily due to support of the proposal.

“I am disappointed in the way the administration handled this project,” said Perkins, who is pastor of the oldest Black church in the city, Bethel Cathedral AME Church. “I still have questions.”

Councilor Kristin Jones, a Democrat representing a large portion of downtown—including both PSDA sites—urged her fellow councilors to vote ‘no’ on the proposal.

“I believe we still have the duty to uphold that previous commitment laid out under that original PSDA,” Jones told the committee. “I believe our integrity relies on us keeping that commitment.”

She argued that the Hogsett administration’s decision not to submit the already-approved PSDA, even if a second isn’t passed, undermines the power of the council. The City-County Council approved the Indy Eleven PSDA plan in December with a 23-1 vote.

In a emailed statement, Indiana Eleven spokeswoman Alexandra Miller praised the fans of the team who turned up at the meeting to object to the mayor’s plan.

“We are heartened by the compelling support Indy Eleven and Eleven Park received this evening and continues to receive,” she said. “Tonight’s meeting showed a troubling lack of details from city officials as to the why and how of their decision making, and it is our hope that the full Council will stand up for their constituents and taxpayers and demand transparency as Indianapolis prepares to walk away from its commitments to Near Westside neighborhoods.”

Hogsett administration officials had a lengthy back-and-forth with councilors ahead of the public comment period. Faegre Drinker attorney Scott Chinn laid out some of the dynamics of the proposal on behalf of the Hogsett administration.

Parker cited a funding gap in the proposal for Eleven Park, saying the Hogsett administration had to choose to “either accept defeat or find another way to build a professional soccer-specific stadium in Indianapolis.” Chinn said the funding gap could be as much as $243 million.

If the full City-County Council approves the proposal at the June 3 meeting, the measure would return to the Metropolitan Development Commission. The MDC could confirm the establishment of the PSDA at its June 26 meeting.

Council President Vop Osili, chair of the committee and sponsor of the proposal, told reporters after Tuesday’s vote that he believes the council will approve the proposal.

Several questions arose before the vote regarding the ownership group, which is being formed by soccer executive Tom Glick.

Chinn said the group would likely be known before the PSDA map is submitted to the state budget agency, but after the June 26 MDC meeting. He did not specify when the submission will be made to the state budget committee, but said approval will be based on the state’s timeline.

Leaders of MLS made clear to Hogsett that the city’s “lane” was in financing the stadium, Parker said, not forming the ownership group. He added that the Hogsett administration does not currently have a relationship with the ownership group.

That ownership group is required under the state law to contribute 20% of the total cost of the development.

The Hogsett administration would then coordinate with the MLS ownership group to submit the expansion club application to MLS, which Chinn said it anticipates doing before the end of 2024.

The city would be charged with a commitment to finance the soccer-specific stadium. Then, a financing resolution would be submitted for council consideration, as well as any request for developer subsidies.

The PSDA would collect state retail taxes, local and state income taxes, and food and beverage taxes to pay for the public portion of the stadium. Innkeepers taxes and admission taxes could also be collected within those boundaries. The taxing-district map includes downtown landmarks such as Circle Centre Mall, the former Anthem headquarters on Monument Circle, the City Market campus and Jail I—along with the heliport property and surrounding parking lots.

Andy Mallon, executive director of the Capital Improvement Board of Marion County, told the committee the soccer stadium would follow “the Indianapolis way of doing these projects,” where sports facilities are constructed with public funds and owned by the CIB’s building authority. Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and Gainbridge Fieldhouse were all developed under that model.

Site work is already underway at the Keystone Group’s $1.5 billion mixed-use project, called Eleven Park. Plans call for the development to be anchored by the stadium but include a wide variety of commercial and residential buildings as well.

The city is now in the process of trying to purchase the Diamond Chain site from Keystone, with Hogsett indicating he might want to turn the property into a memorial park or other public amenity.

By Taylor Wooten, Indianapolis Business Journal