State Budget Committee members say details about MLS investor group not necessary

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Two members of the Indiana State Budget Committee said this week they don’t need a would-be investor group for a Major League Soccer franchise in Indianapolis to unveil itself ahead of the Hogsett administration’s anticipated request for stadium funding from the board.

State Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, and Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, separately told IBJ the disclosure of participants in such a group is unnecessary, as it would be outside of the committee’s purview if Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett submits a new taxing district plan to the group later this month.

Both Mishler and Porter likened the city’s expected request to those more regularly made to the budget committee by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which is not required to disclose much, if any, information about its dealings due to that work being considered highly confidential.

“I don’t really know if we need to know who the [investors] are—it’s just like with the IEDC, we don’t know the names of the companies,” said Mishler.

Porter, who has been vocal in his criticism of the IEDC and its ability to secure state funding with limited oversight, said he also doesn’t expect to hold the city of Indianapolis to standards that aren’t placed equally on the state’s economic development agency.

“Why should the city come through and name their developers or whomever when the IEDC, which gets millions of dollars from us, they do the same darn thing?” he said. “I’m not going to sit back and try to differentiate and to try to beat up anybody, or any group, that’s coming through, when IEDC has a golden spoon to the trough whenever they want to and not have any accountability and transparency.”

The administration this week received approval from the City-County Council for the creation of a new professional sports development area generally centered on the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport site. A final step remains in the local legislative process: the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission is set to hold a public hearing and a vote on the measure June 26.

From there, administration officials would be required to submit the PSDA to the budget committee, with a July 1 deadline to do so.

Indianapolis is expected to request up to $9.5 million annually in state income and sales taxes to be put toward debt service on a stadium. Such a request would be based on a 2019 state law—authored by Mishler—that allows for the development of a professional soccer facility in Marion County.

The law requires approval from the budget committee and it does not specify what the city must provide to the state as part of a formal request for funding.

Porter and Mishler are joined on the committee by Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, Sen. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, and Joseph Habig, acting state budget director. Thompson is the chairman of the committee, which meets whenever there are budgetary matters to consider—typically up to once per month.

Habig declined a request for an interview, deferring questions to Thompson or the governor’s office. A representative for Niezgodski did not return calls requesting comment, nor did Thompson or his representative.

The comments from the lawmakers run counter to what Hogsett officials have been saying for the past few weeks, indicating on multiple occasions—including during public meetings—that they expect a formalized investor group would reveal itself before going to the state budget committee. In fact, administration officials have said they would expect the budget committee to want that information disclosed.

Unlike teams in many other top-tier professional sports leagues, Major League Soccer clubs are not franchises and they do not have individual ownership groups. Instead, each team is owned by the league itself, which secures one or more investors to fund an expansion fee—which could exceed $500 million—as well as contribute to stadium development and support team operations and other expenses.

However, throughout discussions about the possibility of Major League Soccer placing a team in Indianapolis, Hogsett, other leaders and the public have generally reverted to using the term “ownership group” for simplicity.

Hogsett as recently as Wednesday told IBJ that he expected leaders in the Indiana General Assembly and lawmakers on the state budget committee to “insist on the ownership group being known, organized and presented to them when they consider the state’s commitment to any kind of soccer-specific stadium that may very well be built if a club is obtained by Indianapolis.”

A Hogsett administration official told IBJ that despite Mishler and Porter’s comments, the mayor and city staff still believes the investor group “should introduce themselves to the community before the PSDA is submitted to the state.”

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