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City-County Council chamber

Source: Danielle Zulkosky/WISH-TV / other

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a minefield of legalese, financial jargon, and discussions of respect for human remains in a committee hearing held between city leaders and the Indianapolis City-County Council Tuesday night.

In the end, the council’s Rules and Public Policy Committee voted in favor of advancing Mayor Joe Hogsett’s proposal for a brand new soccer stadium at the current site of the Indianapolis Heliport with the intent of attracting an MLS expansion franchise to the city.

During the discussion between councilors on the committee and representatives from the mayor’s office, the situation was laid out quite bluntly by Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Dan Parker when asked by Councilor Jared Evans (D) what would happen if the mayor’s proposal was defeated.

“By the defeat of this proposal, we are hurting our chances of getting MLS and if we don’t get MLS we will not be building a soccer stadium,” Parker said. “PSDA1 would not be submitted.”

PSDA1 is the technical name for the proposal to build Eleven Park, which was originally thought to be agreed upon between the city and owners of Indy Eleven and the Keystone Development Group. Both are owned by Erzal Ozdemir.

Councilors spent the better part of an hour and a half questioning Parker and the city’s attorney, Scott Chinn, about the ins and outs of the mayor’s proposal. Much of the line of questioning centered around why the mayor suddenly decided to back out of the deal with Keystone.

“There was not a signed deal at all,” Parker said to the committee. “The previous proposal presented a tremendous risk to Indianapolis taxpayers.”

Parker added that building permits for Eleven Park have never been issued, only permits for demolition of the old Diamond Chain building by Keystone. he said the Eleven Park proposal had “too big a gap” in which the city would end up being liable if Keystone and the tax district created to fund it did not come up with sufficient funding to build the stadium.

Councilor Brian Mowery (R), the council’s minority leader, said he felt it unwise to approve a plan that has an ownership group that has yet to be made public.

“It is a little nerve-wracking for me hearing we are trying to pass this without knowing who the investors are,” Mowery said.

The discussion also turned to what to do about human remains being discovered at the Diamond Chain site where Eleven Park had been slated to be built. Councilors questioned one of the lead archeologists, Linda Winetrout, contracted by the city to examine and exhume the remains found.

Questions arose about just how many remains are still interred at what used to be the Greenlawn Cemetery. The numbers thrown around ranged from 600 to over 15,000. Winetrout said it’s impossible to know how many people are still buried at the old cemetery site despite being asked several times by councilors.

Councilor Ali Brown expressed concern about the historical impact of building Eleven Park on top of the old cemetery.

“The archeological work you are doing is fantastic,” Brown said to Winetrout. “But, I’m concerned as a city we decided to drive I-65 and I-70 through black history and through black wealth. I know there are members of this council that have relatives buried there. My biggest concern is that we are once against saying to the residents of Indianapolis that people of color (buried at the cemetery) are going to be harmed in the name of progress.”

As for the stadium discussion, several people took to the podium during public comment. It was a mixed bag of people both for and against the mayor’s proposal. Chris Gaul, the executive vice president of Visit Indy, spoke neither for nor against it but elaborated that having an MLS team would be an economic boon for the city.

David Ziemba, who is a lawyer by trade and is president of the Brickyard Battalion, an unaffiliated fan group of Indy Eleven, expressed disappointment in the council.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” he said. “We expected substance tonight. My organization has been flying off the handle. We have received no answers tonight. ‘Coulda, woulda, shoulda, in theory … if we do this it might happen’. Zero answers.”

Ziemba said the mayor’s proposal is more of a risk because of the chance MLS may say no, thus damaging any momentum that had been built by the push for Eleven Park.

Lisa McDonald, who heads up the coordinator for the Indy Eleven women’s side due to be a part of the USL Super League in the next year, told the council that abandoning Eleven Park would severely jeopardize efforts for women’s professional soccer in Indianapolis.

USL Super League is slated to be a Division 1 soccer league on par with the likes of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

Once it came time for a vote, councilors expressed potent reluctance, but many said they would support the proposal.

“MLS will not build or support a team on the Diamond site, unfortunately,” Boots, a former soccer player himself, said. “I don’t agree with it, but I accept it as fact. If we do not approve the Heliport site … it’s clear the mayor will not submit the Diamond site to the state budget committee. For all intense and purpose, MLS soccer would be dead in Indianapolis.”

Other councilors made similar remarks before a vote of 6-4 with one abstention taken in favor of advancing the MLS proposal to the full city-county council.

The approval means that the full council will hear the proposal at its next meeting on June 3rd. They have a deadline of Jun 26th to have the proposal gain full approval by the council in order to be sent to the state budget committee for their approval as well.

City attorneys say once the proposal has approval on all fronts a stadium can begin to be designed. In like manner, the ownership group, which has yet to be revealed, can begin their efforts of fronting their end of the expansion fee to be paid to Major League Soccer to create a new expansion franchise.

 

 

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City-County Council Committee Gives Initial Approval To Mayor’s MLS Stadium Proposal  was originally published on wibc.com