Pacers face uncertain future at Conseco Fieldhouse
Mary Milz/Eyewitness News
Indianapolis - The Indiana Pacers say they are losing too much money and need relief from the city to have a future at Conseco Fieldhouse.
As the team closes out its season this week, negotiations with the City's Capital Improvement Board are picking up over the operating costs of the Fieldhouse.
"There's an incredible sense of urgency. We don't have the ability to operate the core needs of the building and we need help," said Pacers Sports and Entertainment President Jim Morris.
Asked about the deadline fore reaching an agreement, Morris said, "We need to have this resolved in the next 30 to 60 days."
Morris said while attendance and season ticket sales were up slightly this year over last, the Paces continue to lose money. The organization is estimated to be at least $150 million in the red.
"We don't want a single penny for the Pacers or the Fever," Morris said. "Operating the teams is our responsibility."
But he also said they do want the city to pay the roughly $15 million a year it takes to run the Fieldhouse.
"A basketball team in a small market does not have the financial capacity to generate money to operate a public building," he said.
But there's more to it. Morris said some of the equipment at the 11-year-old Conseco needs to be updated or replaced, including the scoreboard, kitchen equipment and furniture. He said venue also needs wi-fi throughout the building to meet Big 10 and NCAA requirements.
The CIB which recently reversed a $47 million shortfall still faces its own challenges.
Asked about the board's ability to help the Pacers, CIB member Paul Okeson said, "It's hard without a doubt. We've continued to see a slight drop-off in hotel revenue. Things just aren't where they need to be, but with improvements in the economy and some luck, we'll make ends meet."
Morris insists owner Herb Simon wants to keep the team in Indianapolis.
"Herb Simon has said steadfastly the team is not for sale. The object is to keep it in Indianapolis. The only reason he bought it was to give Indianapolis a big league team in the NBA," Morris said.
But if the city were unable to pick up the tab for Conseco? Morris said, "I think that would mean we'd have to explore all our options. The fact of the matter is there are a lot of cities in North America and around the world who would love to have a big league team."
Asked if the city can afford to keep the Pacers, Okeson said, "I think the question is can we afford not to have the Pacers? We need to have them here, they're an important part of downtown."
At O'Reilly's, just a stone's throw from Conseco, a couple of fans said it was hard to get to a game this season.
"There's just no excitement - no motivation to go to one," said Jordan Spellmeyer.
John Baker agreed, but like Spellmeyer, said he'd hate to lose the team.
Baker said, "To Indiana - it's huge, we are a basketball state."
Bartender Kate Gindro said, "Even though attendance is not doing so well, it's still helpful. We still get good business [when the team plays.] Just to have a pro team is definitely good for the city."