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If Sports Complex is Going to Fly, a Pro Team Needs to Land First

23 Mar, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Proposed Facility at Former Indianapolis International Airport Land is Seeking a Tenant

The site of the former Indianapolis International Airport terminal may undergo a renovation in the near future if developer Athletes Business Network (ABN) Holdings gets its way. The company has proposed transforming the property into a five-building sports medicine complex, two 250-room hotels and a 20,000-seat stadium or arena. If it’s built, it will ostensibly host local sports events and other entertainment year-round.

The first challenge for the developer will be to win city approval. Simultaneously, it will need to prove that it can attract a professional sports franchise to call the property home. Depending on the team it can attract, the site will feature either an open-air stadium for baseball or soccer, or a closed arena for basketball or hockey. ABN co-founder Craig Sanders is already meeting with out-of-state professional sports organizations about moving to a stadium on the city's west side, according to John Tuohy writing for the Indy Star.

“We are having very active discussions with sports organizations outside of Indiana, professional and amateur," Sanders said, though he declined to name which organizations. The complex would include two 250-room hotels and would be a "global destination" for sports medicine and events, he said.

The sports medicine center that would collocated on the site would specialize in sports performance, substance abuse specific to sports medicine, orthopedics and sports medical technology. According to ABN, the development ultimately would provide jobs for 3,000 workers.

Whichever team ABN manages to lure to the new facility, it probably won’t be The Indy Eleven professional soccer team, which says it wishes to remain downtown. The Indy Eleven currently plays its home games at the Michael Carroll Stadium located on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. That team remains hopeful for a new stadium in the city's downtown district.

"Indy Eleven is aware of the redevelopment proposal for the former terminal site at Indianapolis International Airport," the team said in a statement regarding the proposed project. "While the club has been contacted by numerous parties throughout the Indianapolis area regarding our plans for a permanent, multipurpose stadium, our preference remains to house this facility in the Downtown Indianapolis area."

Similarly, minor league hockey team the Fuel is in a long-term agreement to play its home games at Indiana Farmers Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds, and baseball's minor league Indianapolis Indians recently signed a 20-year lease extension to stay at Victory Field Downtown.

Approval of the project is not guaranteed, and not everyone is on board with the idea. The Indianapolis Airport Authority board of directors recently put the brakes on project after being inundated with concerns that the project was moving too fast with not enough scrutiny. Community leaders and elected officials have expressed skepticism about whether ABN has the financial backing and expertise to handle a project of that size, according to an earlier Indy Star report. Officials opposing the project have expressed wariness of ABN co-founder Craig Sanders’ business track record that includes the bankruptcy of a chain of Dunkin' Donuts franchises and a 2013 personal bankruptcy filing.

"Let's slow down and vet this," said Jared Evans, the newly elected City-County Council member representing the Westside. "How realistic is it? We don't want this developer to start then stop halfway through and say, 'We are out of money,' and leave these unfinished buildings there."

If the project is approved, ABN would enter a 50-year lease agreement with the airport and pay $378,400 per year in rent during phase one of the property development and $637,500 a year once phase two is completed.

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