Conseco debt still rising - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Conseco debt still rising

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Mary Milz/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Eleven years after Conseco Fieldhouse was built, the city's Capital Improvement Board still owes $214 million in principal and interest on the home of the Indiana Pacers.

CIB President Ann Lathrop said that comes to roughly $13 million a year, a number that will climb to $24 million a year before the debt is paid off in 2027.

Attorney Paul Ogden has kept close tabs on city spending.

"You certainly you have to be concerned about taxpayers down the road," said Ogden.

Especially, he said, with the Pacers now wanting the city to pay the venue's operating costs, estimated at $15 million a year.

"It's not just giving them $15 million more dollars, but this building is a debt taxpayers have to pay," he said.

"It's a hard sell for me as a councilor," said City-County Councilor Mary Moriarity Adams (D).

Adams said she was the lone councilor to vote against building Conseco Fieldhouse in the late 1990s. She said the fact that the city's still paying on the Fieldhouse should factor into negotiations with the Pacers, who've said they would consider "all options" if the city didn't help with operating costs.

"Actually you have the two together [debt and operating costs] and you're putting out $28-$30 million a year if it's approved," Adams said, "So yes, it's a concern."

CIB member Paul Okeson, who's negotiating with the Pacers, said, "It is a sizeable amount of money but our responsibility is to the facility."

Okeson said if the Pacers left, the city would still have to pay off the building and the cost of running it. He said having the team provides a public benefit - 40 games a year for the Pacers, 20 for the Fever, not to mention all the concerts and other events held at Conseco.

"The Pacers do bring in an estimated $60 million in economic impact to the city, and we get the benefit of food and beverage revenue. Our responsibility is to the building, not the Pacers," he said.

But the city could be on the hook for more than operating expenses.

Jim Morris, president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, told Eyewitness News two weeks ago that the venue needs several upgrades including new scoreboards, flooring and kitchen equipment. He declined to put a dollar amount on those improvements.

While many consider Conseco a premier venue, but what about a few years down the road? Could it go the way of Market Square Arena or the RCA Dome - imploded before it's paid off?

"Looking 15 to 20 years out, will Conseco Fieldhouse still meet the needs of the Pacers? That's a good question and if we're going on the history of the dome or Market Square arena I would say it would not," said Adams.

Okeson stressed there's been no discussion at all about replacing the Fieldhouse, but admits it's impossible to predict what the situation could be 15 or 20 years down the road.

Brandon Owens, a Pacers fan from Indianapolis, said he hopes it all works out.

"It's important to keep them, to have a basketball team. This is Indiana," said Owens.

But Bill Marsh, also of Indianapolis, isn't so sure.

"It would leave a big hole at Conseco if the Pacers weren't playing there, but it sure doesn't do the city much good if they're playing but not paying. With all the needs we have the Pacers are not high on my priority list," he said.

Okeson said he's hopeful the city and Pacers organization can work out an agreement acceptable to both by the end of June.

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