My colleague, Jon Easter, has a poignant and piercing post today regarding Jim Morris's statement that the Pacers would consider moving if the City doesn't come up with $15 million to absorb the Pacers' contract obligation to pay for the operation of Conseco Fieldhouse. Basically, Easter lets J-Mo know his basket is going to get squashed. No way I can improve on this analysis.
Some of my fondest memories are from Reggie Miller's glory years, and I have no doubt the Simons have been good citizens. But this city has been extremely good to them, and the Pacers have always been a loss-leader hobby for their principals. Now that the family dynamics are changing, all of a sudden they need cash? (Simon Property Group is still able to finance a bankruptcy rescue of a competitor in this deal after all).
If the Pacers and J-Mo had ANY game smarts, they would have waited for a year or two until the team got better and/or the economy improved. Why the urgency, unless the fear is that if they can't get the deal done when the powers that be at Barnes & Thornburg are running the city, it might not get done. Either way, this was just disastrous PR. I am certain that 9/10ths of the Marion County citizenry right now thinks Jim Morris should go achieve an anatomically-unlikely venture involving his own self-gratification.
But I'm a problem solver, so here's a thought. To gross $15 million, we need to raise $365,000 per home game. What's wrong with using the Simon's Circle Center parking rate idea? If you park at the mall on most nights, you pay a reasonable $1.50, the thought being that you don't want to discourage people from parking when they can go to Keystone at the Crossing for free.
BUT when big events are in town, the cost goes up to $20, which you pay unless you can prove you bought $20 worth of stuff at the mall. Why? Because the Simons know you probably aren't shopping; you're free riding (well, not free, but "below-market" riding).
I doubt anybody books a hotel to see a Pacers game. But some might eat dinner before or drink after a game, and we know they have to park to go to the games. And these two entity types should pay the entire cost in the form of an "event" charge.
If you assessed a flat "event night" tax on the (what 200 total restaurants?) they'd each pay $1,800 night. If you assessed an "event night" charge on all the parking lots, the restaurant cut would probably go down markedly. They could then decide whether they'd take a cut in profits in an effort to capture customer loyalty or pass the cost on to their customers.
(As I think about this, I don't believe Simon Property Group charges the "event" rate on the nights of Pacer games. I could be completely wrong on this, but if I'm recalling this right, does that strike any else as strange? Circle Center accommodates 5,300 cars. At an additional $18.50 per car at capacity for 41 games, we're talking an additional $4 million in income. But why would a company do that and risk possibly angering customers if you can get the City to absorb the cost?)
Anyway, would the restaurants and parking garages be outraged by such an "event night" fee? Not if they were really making money on the Pacers, but I suspect that of the 14,000 who come downtown for games, many leave town after the games because they're already broke paying for the ticket, parking, and $5 for a pretzel.
Is what I propose even legal? To create a special "game night" taxing district with varied rates depending on the provider? I seriously doubt it. But any solution to this problem needs to approximate this approach as closely as possible.
Understand that I actually have nothing against billionaire owners, millionaire ballplayers, or downtown restauranteers in the abstract. I'm just not going to shut down a public library for them. I was at Glendale Public Library on Thursday, and every computer station was occupied. Maybe print is dead, but words on monitors aren't, and the public library is the single greatest remedy to the technology gap.