Friday, November 6, 2009

Star Offers Puff Piece on Conseco Fieldhouse, Writer Flunks Economics 101

Today's Star brings us writer Erika Smith going out of her role as technology columnist to pen a piece exalting the economic benefits of Conseco Fieldhouse which celebrates its 10 year anniversary this month.

You'd never know it today, but 10 years ago, before the neon-trimmed bars, before the valet parking, before the families toting Indiana Pacers memorabilia across Pennsylvania Street, the south end of Downtown was a pretty vacant place.

Old office buildings dominated the landscape even as restaurants and bars popped up to the west, closer to then-4-year-old Circle Centre mall.

Conseco Fieldhouse helped change all that.

It gave people reasons to visit the southeast side of Downtown, and lots of businesses have shot up to take advantage of that.

"The addition of Conseco Fieldhouse really led to stretching some of that revitalization over to the other side of Meridian (Street)," said Terry Sweeney, vice president of real estate development for Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

Today, restaurants such as Fogo de Chão, Adobo Grill and Mo's reap the benefits of an arena that draws thousands and hosts about 250 events every year.

Shawn Giarmo, assistant general manager at Fogo de Chão, said the months-old Brazilian steakhouse definitely sees an influx of customers when there is something going on at Conseco.

"Most people when they come Downtown stay closer to Illinois (Street), Meridian (Street) and that area," he said. "And for people to venture off even a little further east, they usually have to have a destination."

Nearby bars also have found success with a steady stream of customers. The Pub, Coaches Tavern and Howl at the Moon are older bars with a lifeline to Conseco Fieldhouse, while Scotty's Brewhouse is a recent addition to the area.

"You have existing businesses that have succeeded and prospered," Sweeney said. "And you have businesses going in a building where there were no businesses before."

Scotty's Brewhouse opened its Downtown location -- the second in Indianapolis and the fifth in Indiana -- in January.

Scott Wise, president and CEO of the chain, said he chose the location at 1 Virginia Ave. because it was a little "off the beaten path" and because it was close to Conseco Fieldhouse.

"I saw kind of a future for development over there," he said.

Although all that development hasn't materialized yet, the sales from people attending events at Conseco Fieldhouse have been more lucrative than expected.

For example, on a weekday night, a concert or a Pacers game down the street can double the sales at Scotty's Brewhouse. On a normally busier Friday or Saturday night, an event at Conseco will boost sales by about 25 percent, Wise said.

"We felt that events would be a big deal," he said, "but I think we underestimated just how much of a big deal."

The same is true for The Pub and the Courtside Convenience store, both across Pennsylvania Street from Conseco Fieldhouse.

"During a lot of events, our business picks up 30 or 40 percent," said Gordon Cocke, operating owner of both businesses, as well as Blu nightclub on Meridian Street.

May, June and July are generally slow months at the arena, and sales at The Pub can drop 60 percent, he said. Sales at Courtside Convenience fall, too, when there are no events at Conseco.

"Conseco, it really helped complete a very good entertainment and hospitality package," Sweeney said.

What a nice puff piece for Conseco Fieldhouse. It comes at exactly the same time that the Pacers are demanding that the Capital Improvement Board, i.e. taxpayers, pick up the $15 million annual bill for operating costs on Conseco Fieldhouse. Since the CIB is already giving the Pacers all the revenue off the building, one would think it would be ridiculous to consider even paying these operating costs. Nonetheless, the CIB, author of the Colts-Lucas Oil Stadium sweetheart deal, is in the business of making the ridiculous dreams of billionaire sports owners dreams come true. Watch for a push in the weeks ahead to renew the Pacers' request for $15 million from the CIB. Oh, wait, the Pacers never requested that. Wink, wink.

It's hard not to get by the faulty assumption that there is great development going on around Conseco Fieldhouse. There, in fact, has been little development in the immediate area surrounding Conseco. Nevertheless, if Erika Smith turned her column into an economics professor, she would get a failing grade for suggesting the Fieldhouse has spurred economic development in the City. Most of the people attending Conseco, especially for Pacers' games, are local. Money spent at the games or in the business venues in the vicinity is discretionary spending. In other words, if they are spending those dollars at Conseco, that means they're not spending that money to go out to a restaurant or to take the family out for a movie. There is no net gain of spending in the community. Rather those discretionary dollars are simply being moved from one part of the city to another.

That is exactly why when they evaluate the economic impact of sports stadiums, most economists subtract out spending by local residents. While Smith can't be expected to do that, she should have at least noted in the article that these businesses supposedly thriving downtown from spending by local residents are benefiting from dollars being taken away from businesses outside of downtown. That is Economics 101.

See also:

Advance Indiana: Friday, November 06, 2009 Star Propaganda Campaign To Promote New Pacer Subsidy Kicks Into Gear

Ogden on Politics: Friday, August 21, 2009 Dispensing With the Lies Told About the Simons' Right to Terminate the CIB-Pacers Conseco Fieldhouse Contract


Had Enough Indy? said...

We'll have to see how many CIB members retain their appointments come January 1. Good sense would see the longer-serving ones gone, since they reigned during the poor decisions. I'm especially interested in whether Early will be back. He has been the cheerleader in chief, since Bob Grand had to keep his mouth shut about the Pacers. In public at least.

I had the same reaction to the front page Conseco story. It seems the Star is spending an inordinate amount of space promoting whatever the Mayor's office or the CIB or H&H brings to them. I guess we can't expect any different with all the cuts in personnel they've levied at the Star.

Jon said...

Since the mayor appoints the majority of the CIB members don't expect any dramatic changes. Our mayor will continue kowtowing to the fat cats in the hope that he may follow in his predecessor's footsteps and obtain a do nothing job at a big salary once he leaves office.

Paul K. Ogden said...


It would be good to elighten people on when their terms are up and who appoints.