Now not time to finance Indy soccer stadium

There are many reasons to like the Indy Eleven, the city’s pro soccer team that proved to be wildly popular in its first season.

Giddy with success, the team now proposes a new soccer venue in lieu of outdated and undersized Carroll Stadium on the IUPUI campus.

That is great, except a plan has been floated that could leave taxpayers on the hook if rosy projections turn south.

Whoa, let’s take a timeout and consider this further.

As with any new relationship, let’s not let the initial infatuation cloud our long-term sensibilities.

Public funds should not be committed yet to underwriting a new $82 million soccer venue in Indianapolis.

The Indiana House of Representative thinks differently, having passed a funding bill. Hopefully, the Senate will believe otherwise.

Let’s be clear. This is not about whether Indianapolis should have a major professional soccer team. This is not about whether the Indy Eleven have been successful in filling that void and energizing soccer fans. This is not about whether a new sporting venue is needed for the sport.

All that may be correct. But it begs the question: Should Marion County taxpayers underwrite a new eight-figure stadium with tax-exempt financing for a professional team that has not had its first birthday?

The answer here is not yet.

Let this mature a year or two. Specifically, the proposal should be shelved until the 2017 General Assembly while the team solidifies its support base and its financial stability.

Indy Eleven deserves commendations for putting forth a proposal that is reasonable. Unlike Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this stadium would not be paid for by taxpayers.

“If you don’t go, you don’t pay,” project backers say.

Instead, stadium revenues of about $5 million annually would pay off the bonds from tax-exempt financing for the 18,500-seat facility.

Still, there is a catch.

Tax-exempt financing for privately owned professional sports teams is exactly what the federal government is trying to limit, worried that it has become a kind of corporate welfare.

While taxpayers would not directly pay the debt service, they are not free of all liability.

If Indy Eleven were unable to make the debt service payment for whatever reason, that responsibility would fall back on taxpayers. While that currently applies only to Marion County, those of us in Johnson County paying for other Marion County sports venues are not that gullible. If this goes south, all area taxpayers likely will be on the hook.

It is that catch that should cause one to pause.

Sure, Indy Eleven looks promising after one great year. And nothing stops private investors from building a stadium now.

But if the taxpayers are asked to guarantee another venue, let’s see how it looks after three years.

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Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.