Colts? Stadium Short on Horse Sense

The predominant discussion in the Indianapolis media over the proposed $500 million Colts stadium is how to fund it, not over the wisdom and propriety of taxpayers going into debt to build it.

Apparently the leaders of both major political parties in Indiana have signed off on the concept, including a poor building design, and are content to confine their discussion to who's picking up the tab.

Come hell or high water on White River, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has vowed not to lose the Colts during his administration. His plan in part is to raise $13 million annually through higher car rental, innkeeper and admissions taxes in Marion County, as well as with annual gambling profits of $46 million from 2,500 pull-tab gambling machines in downtown Indianapolis.

Regional Republicans have their own plans to fund a new stadium. Rep. Luke Messer of Shelbyville proposes giving Indianapolis $30 million in annual revenue from 2,500 slot machines at the Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs horse tracks. Marion County GOP chairman and state Rep. Michael Murphy has a similar plan that would divide the slot machine profits differently, giving Indianapolis $48 million annually.

Here are three problems with these major party proposals, besides any issues that readers might have over funding the stadium with gambling profits.

First, they do not address the issue of stadium obsolescence. Taxpayers cannot afford to again let government build a stadium that the NFL outgrows, especially one that is three-times the real cost of the first one. Proponents should guarantee that the stadium will be valuable for 50 years, or promise to indenture the lives of their children and grandchildren at double the rate of our servitude.

Second, their proposals treat businesses unequally. They subsidize rich millionaires at the expense of smaller or more deserving businesses. Likewise, they treat businesses such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unfairly by taxing them to underwrite their sports competitor. It's a slap in the face to the Speedway, which funds itself.

And why should we indenture each Indianapolis citizens with more than $1,000 in debt for eight regular-season football games each year? If gambling revenue projections are not met, are residents of Indianapolis willing to be on the hook for the balance? I'm certainly not.

But here's the real crux. The RCA Dome is perfectly good as it is, except for one basic flaw. No, the flaw is NOT the size of the Dome. Although it is the smallest in the league at 57,900 seats, the Colts barely sell the Dome out even with ticket prices just below the league's average of $54.75.

The problem with the RCA Dome stems from how NFL teams share revenue. Owners keep their revenues from private luxury suites. At the Dome, Colts owner Jim Irsay has 104 suites. The league's most profitable franchise, the Washington Redskins, has 280.

Irsay seeks a stadium with enough suites to give him a shot at a medium profit relative to the rest of the league. He would have already moved his franchise to Los Angeles had that city promised him a stadium with enough suites, which it could not afford to do.

So he and his franchise are leveraging Indianapolis and our state government into building him a stadium by 2008 that merely gives him more profit potential. Ironically, Irsay's best selling point is that he will not also hold the city hostage by making it guarantee that the suites it builds him will be sold. Huh? Until then, the city expects to pay him at least $36 million to keep the Colts in town.

Compare this to the real costs of a new stadium. Its $500 million price tag can triple by the time its bond is paid. For the 400 permanent jobs that the stadium creates and the hundred or so new suites that are created, that amounts to a public investment of over $1 million per job and $3 million per luxury suite. Plus, we will build a stadium with no more capacity than the original Hoosier Dome and, from the looks of the design, one with lousy viewing for NCAA basketball.

That's maddening. Our elected officials are about to build another obsolete stadium with limited capacity, a poor configuration and an exorbitant price tag. They will again saddle us with public debt that is tall on political horseplay and short on horse sense.

©2005 Libertarian Writers Bureau

Attorney, screen writer and former chair of the Libertarian Party of Marion County.

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