Friday, May 01, 2009

More Huffing and Puffing From CIB Leaders

During an emergency board meeting today, CIB leaders elevated the level of their dramatic performance to trick state lawmakers into bailing out their mismanaged agency during a special session of the legislature to tackle the state budget next month. They stopped short, however, of setting a September 1 closure date for the CIB's operations as a result of its claimed $48 million a year shortfall. I'm told that cooler heads prevailed in getting the CIB leadership to tone down its tactics a bit for fear that their public comments were actually doing great harm to the convention center's ability to book conventions. The IBJ's Scott Olsen outlines the contingency plan the CIB plans to implement in the short-run to pressure lawmakers into approving a bailout:

On the cost-cutting drawing board: Renegotiating operating contracts for its venues, suspending all grant payments and potentially selling assets. It also will ask the state for help making a $27 million bond payment that comes due in September.

It was not immediately clear how much money the various tactics would free up to cover the gap. But the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association certainly won’t receive the additional $3 million it had requested for tourism marketing.

ICVA chief Don Welsh said the CIB’s financial mess could strain the organization’s efforts to attract conventions and events.

“The longer this goes unresolved, the longer our competitors will hold this against us,” he said today.

Legislators failed to take action on a bill that would have allowed Indianapolis to raise hotel, car rental and ticket taxes to help fund the CIB, which oversees Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center.

Olson's story discusses the problem the CIB faces in paying off a $27 million debt obligation which comes due in September. Inexplicably, the CIB rushed last month to pay off a $17 million loan from the State of Indiana that was not due until June, further exacerbating its financial plight. Observers believe the State would have agreed to a deferral on the loan repayment if it had been requested. The CIB's suggestion that it might consider the sale of assets is interesting. The biggest asset driving the CIB's costs is Lucas Oil Stadium. The State of Indiana, not the CIB, owns the stadium. If the CIB can't afford the cost of operating the stadium under its lease agreement with the Colts, logic would dictate that it return the stadium's control to the State of Indiana and remove its most onerous financial burden. The CIB claims it costs $20 million a year more to operate LOS than the RCA Dome. Observers, including the Colts, have expressed doubt about the size of that figure. To many, the CIB is deliberately inflating that figure to heighten its financial predicament.

Making matters worse, the CIB has unilaterally renegotiated its lease agreement with the Pacers before the two parties even sat down at the negotiating table to discuss the lease agreement. The CIB foolishly agreed to pay $15 million a year in costs the Pacers claim they are paying to maintain Conseco Fieldhouse. Again, observers tell me that that number is grossly inflated and ignores expenses the CIB has been paying over the past decade that it has not been contractually obligated to pay. Others believe that the Pacers' claim that the franchise is losing $30 million a year and has lost $200 million over the past decade is patently false. The Pacer official making those claims is Jim Morris, the former Indianapolis Water Company executive who help sell the City of Indianapolis on the idea of purchasing the water company for more than double its actual value. Taxpayers are now strapped with a water utility that is carrying close to $1 billion in debt. Water rates will have to be increased exponentially in coming years to cope with the burdensome debt. Morris retired from the water company after its purchase and walked away with more than $6 million under the terms of his separation agreement.

Morris told WTHR the Pacers also want to discuss revenues the CIB gets from the Virginia Avenue parking garage. "The Pacers are not asking for help for the team. That's our responsibility to operate the team, but the team does not have the financial capacity to operate the building," Morris said. "Morris said there were at least a dozen other issues it needed to address, including the revenue the city now gets from the Virginia Avenue garage."

On that parking garage on Virginia Avenue, the IBJ's Olson indicates that the CIB is considering shortened hours of operation for that garage. Earlier, the CIB had proposed raising parking rates on all CIB-controlled parking spaces downtown by 20%. The Senate-passed bailout for the CIB included an option to allow the CIB to collect a surcharge on parking in Indianapolis to help finance the CIB's supposed shortfall. After the bill's passage, CIB officials and lawmakers said the inclusion of the parking surcharge was a drafting error.


Downtown Indy said...

Instead of facing their problem head-on they opted to end their grants for arts and tourism. This, I suspect, is an effort to piss off the broadest number of folks possible (given the stink that the Arts folks raised when their handout was merely curtailed a few weeks back).

After a few more 'cuts', they will have rescinded all of the budget increase they voted for last year. Big whoop!

They still are not making any effort to actually FIX their problem.

I know said...

The Arts and the IMA were here long before the Hoosier Dome and Market Square Arena. The beautiful State Parks that dot the landscape in Indiana were also here and most of them have provided quality jobs for decades.

Where I came from the State Park was the masterpiece and pride of the whole area.

Maybe Indiana should look at the things that people really came to Indiana for instead of a bunch of thugs on a basketball court and a building with a moving roof. We all played football in the rain and snow. God forbid Jamall Tinsley doesn't get his $21M for sitting at home and Peyton would catch cold.

Load up the CIB, the Pacers and the Colts on a bus trip and go to the IMA and then to a picnic at a State Park. Maybe they will get a simpler life style attitude adjustment.

I bet most of them don't know where the IMA is and where in the world is Clifty Falls State Park?


Where are all the sports fans in this?

The arts supporters came out in droves.

Where are the Colts and Pacers fans?

Likely their fans are parked in front of the tube oblivious to the crisis caused by these sports teams.