January 23, 2019

Owner offers to buy Broad Ripple High

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Apartments and offices and retail space to pedestrian plaza and stadium, this is what the proposed $550 million development project could include.
Provided by Indy Eleven, Indianapolis Star

A 20,000-seat soccer stadium, the new home of the Indy Eleven, may be built on the campus of now-closed Broad Ripple High School. 

The $550 million proposal — which would need IPS Board, state and city approval to move forward — also includes hundreds of apartments, retail space, an office building, a hotel, underground parking, a school and a public plaza.

The development could pump fresh life into Broad Ripple, one of the city’s most historic and charming neighborhoods but also one that has struggled in recent years with crime and the nuisances of a popular bar scene.

Marketed to millennials, Indy Eleven has a young, largely upscale fan base. The prospect of walking or taking the new Red Line to a neighborhood stadium — and nearby restaurants and bars before and after matches — would have strong appeal.

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Yet, the team, with an average attendance of 12,000 last season, draws fans from Muncie to Bloomington. The stadium complex would significantly increase traffic and demand for parking in an already-congested neighborhood. 

Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir declined on Thursday to identify Broad Ripple High as a potential site for the stadium complex. He said the franchise is considering multiple locations.

But Ozdemir, in a letter sent Nov. 13 to then-Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the IPS Board, wrote: “We were recently approached by Broad Ripple Village Association to consider moving this mixed-use project to the former Broad Ripple School. Their board is very supportive of this effort and will publicly advocate for this effort. Responding (to) community interest, we evaluated the site and would like to express our interest to acquire or enter into a long-term lease for the Broad Ripple High School site.”

Ozdemir outlined in the letter four elements of a potential deal: His company, Keystone Group, would either buy the campus or sign a lease with IPS; Keystone and its partners would develop the 16-acre site; IPS would have the option of using the stadium on Friday nights for football games; a public school would open on the site.

“The proposed layout could also possibly keep the 1,000 seat auditorium,” Ozdemir wrote. “We would work to find a partner to operate a community Performing Arts Center. Adjacent to the Performing Arts Center would be a 300-500 student public school.”

The letter does not include a proposed purchase price or an amount the team would pay the school district under a lease.

Whether built in Broad Ripple or elsewhere in the city, the project, called Eleven Park, must clear several obstacles to become reality. 

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The biggest is in the Indiana General Assembly, where lawmakers in coming weeks will be asked to designate the stadium site as a professional sports development area, a financing tool that uses sales and income taxes collected inside the district to pay off debt. The city announced in October it will request that legislators in this session set aside a part of Pan Am Plaza as a sports development area to help pay for expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

Indy Eleven pushed in 2015 and 2017 for state help in building a stadium. Those efforts failed in part over objections to providing public subsidies to a still-new team. 

This time around, Ozdemir said, his six-year-old franchise would pay the stadium’s operating expenses and make up for any shortfalls if taxes collected on the site fail to cover financing costs. The city’s Capital Improvement Board would own the new stadium. 

Taylor Schaffer, a spokeswoman for Mayor Joe Hogsett, said Indy Eleven executives have not shared with the city plans specifically for Broad Ripple High or other potential sites. But she said, in a written statement, that “we are encouraged by (the team’s) current focus on a taxpayer-friendly strategy that is backed by private development.”

As Ozdemir noted in the letter to IPS, it was the Broad Ripple Village Association that introduced the idea of building a stadium at the former high school. The business and homeowner association’s support could be crucial in addressing residents’ concerns about the plan.

Executive Director Colleen Fanning, in a written statement Thursday, said: “We have an opportunity to do something very special with the redevelopment of Broad Ripple High School, which will impact the immediate and surrounding communities for decades to come.”

She promised that residents will have a say in what becomes of the campus. “Community awareness and discussion must be part of any process to redevelop BRHS, and if the idea progresses, I will work to ensure the community is involved,” Fanning said.

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IndyStar reporter Justin Mack breaks down the announcement that Indy Eleven will play its 2018 schedule at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar

And Fanning, also a member of the City-County Council, called on IPS administrators to move quickly to determine the property’s future. “I will continue to reference interested parties to IPS in the hope they will proceed with greater urgency,” she said.

The question of whether IPS will negotiate with the team to buy or lease the campus is uncertain. A spokesman for the district said, in a written statement, that “all dispositions of IPS properties are determined by a public and transparent process. That process includes a market analysis to outline best uses for the property. That analysis is ongoing.”

Let’s be clear: The stadium proposal is complex and needs scrutiny. It may not happen at all. Or Indy Eleven may build in Downtown. 

But the proposed development is the kind of high-energy, mixed-use project that school district and city leaders should pursue for the campus. If approved, it would, as Fanning noted, pump money and energy into the neighborhood for decades and help the city attract and retain the young talent it needs.

It deserves strong consideration at the Statehouse, at city hall and inside IPS.

Contact Swarens at tim.swarens@indystar.com; friend him on Facebook at Tim Swarens; follow him on Twitter @tswarens.

Read or Share this story: https://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/columnists/tim-swarens/2019/01/11/exclusive-indy-eleven-offers-buy-broad-ripple-high-build-stadium/2537875002/

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