Conseco costs drain Pacers' bottomline
By Brendan O’Shaughnessy
Posted: March 9, 2009
The Capital Improvement Board cut about $400,000 in grants to arts and tourism groups today and revealed new details about the Indiana Pacers’ financial problems.
Pat Early, the board's vice president, said the Pacers are losing about $30 million this season and have lost money every year but two of the 28 years the Simons have owned the team.
Early said the Pacers cannot continue to shoulder the $15 million per year operating costs of Conseco Fieldhouse. He said the team has not threatened to leave but that there is a good chance it will leave or shut down if the CIB does not assume those costs.
“If we are unable to do this, we’re really jeopardizing the health of Downtown,” Early said.
He called the Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium the bookends of a $4 billion annual tourism and convention industry. “If one of those bookends goes down, who knows what’s next.”
Early said that the city still would have to shoulder the Fieldhouse’s operating costs if the Pacers didn’t play there and estimated that they would be nearly the same. He said the team acknowledges responsibility for its players’ problems off the court but cannot control a collective bargaining agreement that hurts small-market cities.
“It’s important that everyone understands the Pacers can’t participate any more financially,” Early said of talk that the city cover only a portion of the operating costs. “They are already participating with millions of dollars every year. We are going to have to find a solution.”
The update on talks with the Pacers overshadowed the expected cut to the grants it makes. The board cut 13 percent from cultural tourism, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Indiana Black Expo. It exempted from the cuts the Finance Committee's recommendation to also cut 13 percent from the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.
Dave Lawrence, vice president of the Arts Council, said he appreciated the difficult situation facing the CIB but reminded the board that the arts also contribute to the city's vitality and $52 million in taxes. "As we’re talking about the Pacers and how to save Downtown, we also have to talk about the arts,” he said.