Stadium authority tries an eminent domain end run: Marion (IN) Chronicle Tribune, 1/5/06

Legislature should not let it succeed

This is not a good time of year to get down on the Indianapolis Colts or anything connected with the state's National Football League team, but efforts to get the Colts a new stadium go too far.

The Indiana Stadium and Convention Center Building Authority, which has plans to build the Colts' new luxury stable in downtown Indianapolis, filed a lawsuit Friday to take over some property it wants through eminent domain.

The stadium authority filed the suit before 2005 ran out in an attempt to avoid possible restrictions the General Assembly might enact this session.

The stadium wants 4.26 acres of property at 230 W. McCarty St., claiming the property is blighted and a candidate for eminent domain.

The authority filed two other lawsuits last month, one going after a 2.3-acre lot at Capitol Avenue and South Street, and the other going after a small lot that contains a piano store near the Hurst building.

The stadium authority wants the Hurst property so it can fulfill its obligations to provide enough parking around the stadium.

The problem is that the Hurst property, at least, isn't blighted. It's the site of the N.K. Hurst Co. bean factory, a thriving business that's been in operation on the site since 1938 and does not want to move.

Eminent domain - the taking of private property by government for public use - has gotten a bad rap over the years, and it wasn't helped by the recent Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., which said that it's all right for government to take private property and turn it over to private developers looking to turn a profit.

The idea behind eminent domain is that government should be able, as a last resort, to buy someone's property, paying them what it's worth, for infrastructure projects such as a new highway or school.

But it's something else to do that for economic development, as important as that is.

A football stadium does not rank up there with a highway or a school. It amounts to economic development.

Some would argue that a new stadium would mean more money for Indianapolis and that a new stadium amounts to a public benefit.

More likely, they just don't think a bean factory is as cool as an NFL franchise, even though the bean factory is doing well, providing jobs and paying taxes.

The government has offered the Hurst company $3.7 million for its property, including the factory building. Hurst officials, according to The Indianapolis Star, have estimated the costs of moving the factory alone at more than $7.5 million, not including the cost of acquiring new land and a new building.

Indiana's current eminent-domain law is so vague that government can often get by with simply calling a property blighted, whether it is or not. Such would appear to be the case in the Hurst case.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, has been quoted as saying he plans to sponsor legislation that would make it more difficult for governments to take private land.

His bill would allow governments to seize land only when there's no reasonable alternative. Wolkins also said he likely would make the bill retroactive so it would apply to the Hurst case.

On the football field, it's "Go, Colts!" But in the stadium-vs.-bean-factory contest, it's "Go! Fight! Win, Hurst!"

Marion Chronicle Tribune: www.chronicle-tribune.com