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With the shot clock winding down to zero, contract negotiations between city leaders and the Indiana Pacers are grinding on. A Pacers-imposed deadline of today is expected to pass without an agreement between the team and the Capital Improvement Board over how to cover operating costs for Conseco Fieldhouse.

“Anything is possible,” said Paul Okeson, a member of the CIB, which manages the city’s sports stadiums and the Indiana Convention Center. “We’re committed to taking enough time to make sure we’re doing what is right by the citizen taxpayer and the city’s economy.”

“If we get there (today),” he added, “we will. If we don’t, we won’t. We’re committed to staying with the discussions as long as they are.”

The issue came to light in spring 2009 when the Pacers said they no longer could afford to operate the fieldhouse. Discussions began in earnest this year. The Pacers, members of the CIB and Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration have held behind-closed-doors negotiations on the lease, centering on the team’s push to have the CIB pick up the $15 million operating tab. City leaders are open to striking a short-term deal as they wrangle with several variables, including the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, revenue tied to the convention center expansion and the unstable national economy.

“There has been a lot of thought and conversation about that,” Okeson said of a place-holder deal. “It seems a little challenging to strike a long-tern deal at this point because of all of those variables.” Greg Schenkel, vice president of corporate and public relations for the Pacers, said, “We are hopeful and optimistic and are still working toward a positive resolution for everybody.” As for meeting today’s deadline, “I’m not even going to get into that,” Schenkel said. “It would be speculation on anybody’s part. We’re just hopeful we can arrive at a solution as soon as possible.”

Team officials said they would consider all options — including leaving town — if an agreement is not reached by the end of this month. “We want to keep them long term, if we can,” Okeson said. “But we’ve got to be responsible and accountable and smart. “The Pacers signed their current 20-year lease with the city in 1999, but a clause in that contract allows the team to renegotiate its terms with the city’s Capital Improvement Board after 10 years.

“The June 30 deadline is not one imposed by the city,” said Robert Vane, deputy chief of staff to Ballard. “The mayor has said consistently that we will take our time in continuing to negotiate in good faith.”

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