Noblesville to build $36M arena to woo Pacers’ Mad Ants from Fort Wayne
The 85,000-square-foot arena is to be located at Finch Creek Park. (Rendering by KRM Architecture, courtesy of Pacers Sports & Entertainment)
(Rendering by KRM Architecture, courtesy of Pacers Sports & Entertainment)
Pacers Sports & Entertainment plans to move the Fort Wayne Mad Ants—its developmental league team—to Noblesville where city officials have pledged to build a $36.5 million arena complete with suites and an event space.
As part of a 10-year deal to be announced Monday afternoon, the city of Noblesville has agreed to construct a 3,400-seat venue at Finch Creek Park, near Ruoff Music Center. The Pacers plan to contribute $5 million over 10 years to the project. Noblesville will own the venue and finance it with bonds that will be paid off by lease proceeds.
Construction of the 85,000-square-foot arena is to start this fall, although the Mad Ants—part of the NBA’s G League—will make the move to central Indiana before its completed. The team will play its 2023-2024 season, which starts in October, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, Pacers officials said.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Rick Fuson said the move stemmed from a desire to consolidate some operations of the Mad Ants and those of the Pacers following the pandemic. The Mad Ants have played several games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse each of the past two seasons.
“What we found from a basketball perspective was the fact that you could [have both teams] practice at St. Vincent’s Center,” Fuson said, referring to the Pacers training facility directly across Delaware Street from the fieldhouse. “They had the same doctors, the same strength and conditioning coaches. That’s the way the league’s going, as there are a number of G League teams [close to NBA markets] and what an opportunity this is for us to go to one of the fastest-growing cities in our state.”
At least nine players on the current Pacers roster have played in the G League since turning pro, Fuson said. By having the teams closer to one another—about 30 miles between the proposed arena and Gainbridge, compared to 130 miles to Fort Wayne—PSE can create more cohesion between the Pacers and the Mad Ants franchises, both operationally and for fans of the teams, he said. Most G League teams and their affiliated NBA teams are within 50 miles of one another.
As part of the move, the Mad Ants—named in honor of Fort Wayne’s namesake “Mad” Anthony Wayne—will get a new nickname, but PSE and the city of Noblesville are still working to determine what that will be. The current moniker will remain in place for the upcoming season.
The G League team is expected to move to the new facility for the 2024-2025 season but will hold all of its practices in Indianapolis.
Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen said the move was “several months in the making.” He said the announcement is a significant moment for the city of 71,000, which has continued to grow rapidly alongside other parts of Hamilton County.
“Indiana is a basketball state, and Noblesville is a basketball city,” Jensen told IBJ, adding that he is optimistic the deal will go beyond its initial 10-year commitment period. “We’re really excited about this.”
A development agreement between the city and Pacers Sports & Entertainment is expected to go before the Noblesville City Council on Tuesday. Groundbreaking is expected in the fall.
The city is working with indoor athletic facility developer Card & Associates, based in Indianapolis, and local firm KRM Architecture, to develop the property. The design is expected to include several suites, an event space, a mezzanine viewing area and a pop-up retail area.
In addition to its $5 million contribution to the project, PSE will work to procure a naming-rights sponsor and other sponsorships for the venue. Fuson said he expects that could bring another $500,000 to the venue every year. It is not expected that all of the Mad Ants sponsors will make the transition to Noblesville—several are Fort Wayne-based companies—but PSE said it would work with those that had an interest in continuing.
In Fort Wayne, the Mad Ants have played their home games at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, which has a capacity of 13,000. The new venue would be the seventh-smallest in the 30-team league, by capacity.
The team has been based in the Fort Wayne since it was founded in 2007 by Fort Wayne Basketball Group LLC, which was led by majority investors John Zeglis, Julie Potter and Jeff Potter. The Mad Ants won the then-named D League in 2014 and were runners-up in 2015, before being acquired by PSE in September 2015.
Fort Wayne officials were to be informed about the move to Noblesville on Monday morning. PSE said there were no contracts or leases from which the team had to withdraw in order to make the move.
“We love Fort Wayne, and it continues to be a city that has played very positive role of our state,” Fuson said. “We appreciate the fact that we have been able to play there since we’ve owned it for eight years. But … it’s a different situation today, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re coming back down here and found a great partner in Noblesville.”
The move by the Mad Ants marks the second professional sports franchise to plan moves to Hamilton County. Last year, the Indy Fuel hockey team announced plans to relocate to Fishers, which is building it an arena as part of a larger project.
“I think it just speaks to the overall regional strength that central Indiana has. Indianapolis is certainly known as a convention city and it’s home to professional sports, but that footprint is just getting bigger,” Jensen said. “I think folks like Pacers Sports & Entertainment and others are seeing the value and having a more diversified fan base and bringing more experiences to areas where communities that are growing, allowing for the region to be more of a sports community as a whole.”