Secret results in hand, Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts have dropped hints as subtle as a flying mallet about their "need" for a new downtown stadium in order to remain a viable NFL franchise. Underpinning the discussion is Irsay"s implied threat of taking his ball and going home - or at least to a new home. Just as the Colts left history behind in Baltimore, Irsay has smiled politely at the suggestion that he could leave the last 20 years in Indianapolis behind. A franchise move is never easy and a team has to be welcomed with open arms and usually a new stadium. The promised land for the NFL is currently the Los Angeles market with its weather, stars and giant media numbers. Indianapolis in its current economic state could not hope to compete with the types of offers that come Irsay"s way. According to sources, Philip Anschutz, founder of Qwest Communications and owner of the Los Angeles Kings, made offers to two teams, the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts, to move to a planned stadium next to the Staples Center, home of the Kings and Lakers. The offer included the building of a new 64,000 seat stadium, a sweetheart deal on parking and concessions, funding for the move of the team, construction of a practice center and $250 million for just under half of the ownership of the team. The total package worked out to about $800 million in cash and prizes for Irsay. The Colts, it should be noted, have used the 64,000 seat number in their own requests for an outdoor stadium. Attractive due to the star power of Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, as well as a lease with escape clauses that could release the Colts without penalty as soon as 2006, the Colts could clearly drum up interest in a market that lost two teams despite economic advantages only New York and Chicago share. But just as the offer was made, harsh economic reality set in for the Anschutz group. His own company, Qwest, is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, while its stock price has followed a trajectory like the Colts record in 2001. More important, Anschutz was unable to convince the Los Angeles City Council to pony up a $100 million bond issue or to seize a plot of land near Staples Center for construction. In late June, Anschutz quietly withdrew his bid for the Colts or Chargers and walked away from an attempt to bring the midnight Mayflowers to Southern California. With Snidely Anschutz"s plot to tie our city to the train tracks foiled, where does this leave Irsay"s quest to find corporate welfare dollars to build his team a new outdoor stadium, preferably with a retractable dome? Absent the immediate threat of relocation or the Chicken Little economics of baseball owners, Irsay is left in a position of bluffed threats and supplication. There is an NFL committee working to find a solution that could bring the NFL back to the second largest media market, but the committee"s existence is more to help owners like Irsay or Red McCombs in Minnesota extort new stadiums from current locations than it is to actually move teams. The current economic climate, in both Indiana and across the country, makes corporate welfare and public support for a private enterprise less attractive than ever before. I spoke with Robert Miller, a senior analyst at Cushman & Wakefield, a leading commercial real estate services firm, who spoke out against using public money to fund stadiums. "If ballparks are such great investments, why aren"t private investors lining up to build them?" Miller asked. "Further, with capital flowing out of the stock market and into real estate, more investors should be willing to invest in sound real estate projects. Apparently, prudent investors don"t believe that stadiums are good investments Ö and neither should taxpayers." Miller also pointed me to a Web site, www.fieldofschemes.com, that had a wealth of information about stadium projects and their proposed funding. In the political game of allocating our precious tax dollars, a stadium for multimillionaire owners to watch millionaire players eight or 10 times per year must fall below other priorities such as education, public safety and infrastructure. It is time for Irsay and the Colts to follow the lead of new head coach Tony Dungy and become a leading part of the Indianapolis community. Yes, they"ve made efforts before, but nothing like what"s necessary to create the circumstances necessary for a new stadium. Irsay must end the innuendo and seek a way to finance a stadium himself while creating an economy that can sustain that venue, not only on eight autumnal Sundays, but throughout the year. He"ll have to partner with government, local business and the common fan who pays a day"s wages to sit in the cheap seats and drink $8 beer. If Irsay and Mayor Peterson need a model, they need not look to Los Angeles, but north, to San Francisco, where a new and acclaimed stadium has been privately financed and helped to create a thriving new section of town built on blighted areas donated by local government. Indianapolis could have a renaissance much like San Francisco"s South of Market (Soma) district with proper leadership and vision. For Indianapolis and the Colts organization, first down was a veiled threat that has become a failed threat. Let"s see what they come out of the huddle with for second down. Will Carroll is the editor of Under the Knife, a national sports column published daily at www.willcarroll.com and weekly at www.Foxsports.com. He can be heard Tuesdays on WXLW"s Sports Desk with Greg Rakestraw.

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