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Fate of human remains at center of soccer stadium fight

Mayor has new vision for proposed soccer stadium site

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on Thursday detailed his vision for the former Diamond Chain Co. site downtown.

The city government on Wednesday offered to buy the land from the Keystone Group, but the developer has shown no signs of wanting to sell, sticking with a plan to build a soccer stadium called Eleven Park for the Indy Eleven.

Hogsett said Thursday the city’s proposal to buy the land is an effort to make things right. “We’re simply trying to resolve this matter in as equitable and fair way as we possibly can.”

Work began nearly a year ago on Keystone Group’s Eleven Park project, estimated at $1.5 billion, on land previously owned by The Diamond Chain Co. along the east shore of the White River between West Washington Street and Kentucky Avenue. Plans called for a stadium with 20,000 seats, plus offices, apartments, a hotel, retail space, and a parking garage.

In preparing the site for construction, Keystone Group said Wednesday that they’ve discovered 87 burials across 6 acres. It was revealed in December that the northern portion of the Eleven Park site contained human remains from a former cemetery, but numbers had not been previously shared.

The city wants to assure human remains at the site are properly memorialized, but, behind that motivation, sits the fight over whether or not a soccer stadium should be built at all.

The Democratic mayor, as he described his vision for the area, said, “We do take that ground as very sacred ground and, while we have not developed any plans for it, I think a memorial and a park, or a green space.”

Hogsett said, “The four cemeteries and the history there, we really don’t know how with any degree of certainty how many bodies will be found.”

That’s why the city is proposing to buy the land at a fair market value from Keystone Group. The development of the Indy Eleven soccer stadium by Keystone Group, in collaboration with the city, hangs over that proposal like a dark cloud.

Hogsett said, “We were willing to put $250 million into a new stadium, but, for reasons that only Keystone could explain, they came back and asked for additional incentives. At some point, the taxpayers have to be protected, and that’s what I decided to do.”

The mayor made a surprise announcement April 25 that the city government was pursuing a Major League Soccer team and a second site for a large-scale soccer stadium. That project has advanced in recent days in front of city government leaders, but state officials must give the final approval, as they did for Eleven Park.

Hogsett would like to put the new soccer stadium at the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport, which sits northeast of Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The city has said an ownership group is in place for the stadium near Gainbridge Fieldhouse, but no details have been revealed.

Chief Deputy Mayor Dan Parker said, “The economics of that (Eleven Park) proposal just didn’t work, and that’s why we had to cease negotiations, and the mayor’s proposal (for the MLS soccer-specific stadium). The level of Major League Soccer and the heliport site, with the diverse development that’s going on around there, makes it a more financially feasible proposal to build a soccer-specific stadium.”

The mayor has also said Indianapolis will only have one new soccer stadium.

Nobody from the Keystone Group or the Indy Eleven would talk on camera Thursday.

Keystone Group on Wednesday issued a statement saying they just completed Phase 1 of their project, but gave no hint that the project will not happen. The statement from Jennifer Pavlik, chief of staff and senior vice president for Keystone Group, said in part, “As we move forward with this transformational riverfront development it has always been our steadfast commitment to correct past mishandlings by previous ownership, with dignified and respectful reinterment and memorialization. Keystone Group is ready to build.”

If the Keystone Group decides to sell the land to the city, the average of two appraisals will have to be approved by the City-County Council before that sale can go through.

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