The obvious question, then, especially in the face of unmitigated fiscal devastation in Detroit, Cleveland, and many other smaller Midwest cities, is how did [Indianapolis] do it?
The Indianapolis plan for resurrection required much more than prayer. Beginning in the 1970s, under a visionary, Republican Mayor – William Hudnut – and Otis Bowen, a cooperative and moderate Republican Governor, Indianapolis sought to become the sports capital of the Midwest, a flytrap for business investment, and a tourist destination.
Hudnut and Bowen were both unconventional men who took uncharted courses into politics. Neither was an attorney with connections. Hudnut was a Presbyterian minister, and Bowen, a doctor. Their practical experience in crises of real intensity necessitating compromise – there are no ideological solutions to budget trouble or health problems – gave them the vantage point necessary to look into the long term, and problem solve accordingly, rather than merely consider what is best in the immediate future for voting base constituencies.
Indianapolis civic leaders first decided to take what already attracted people to their city – sports entertainment – and enlarge and expand it go beyond merely one annual event.
Fred Glass said that the city’s strategy is comparable to the memorable and mysterious advice from Field of Dreams – "If you build it, they will come."
The city oversaw the construction of a new basketball arena for its NBA Franchise, a downtown baseball stadium for its Triple A minor league baseball team, and in the 1970s, Mayor Hudnut was able to convince the Baltimore Colts to move to Indianapolis. The latter effort led to the culmination of the downtown revitalization when in 2006, the city hosted the Super Bowl.
"Top down" economic development schemes have often failed in other cities. Sports stadiums and convention centers rarely deliver on their utopic promises of business stimulation and tourism renewal, but in Indianapolis, the plan was not merely governmental investment. It was cross-sector partnership. The Indianapolis city government and the Indiana state government formed an alliance with Eli Lilly, and other large corporations in the state, to co-fund large scale projects.
The public-private partnership proved successful not only in sports, but also in attracting nightlife activity and encouraging entrepreneurship. The city’s Circle Centre, for example, took money from both the government and business to beautify the cross section of downtown with a large monument and water fountain. Shops, restaurants, and bars now surround the aesthetic triumph. Indianapolis has the second largest collection of urban monuments in the country. The city looks good, but it also feels good for visitors and residents.
Mayor Greg Ballard helped balance the budget in Indianapolis by forming partnerships with private businesses and firms in the reorganization in public services. Solid waste pickup is one area where the city has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by streamlining services, but not reducing them. Complaints to the solid waste pickup service have dropped by twenty percent since Ballard authorized the deal in 2009. The city, and more importantly, the citizens benefit.
The revitalization of Indianapolis did not enable the bruised city to pick itself up off the mat for many years, and even now, at over forty years into it, the city is still not out of the ring.
Indianapolis, unlike Detroit, tells a story of hope and terror. There is hope if American leaders and voters can overcome the terror of waiting patiently for results, compromising ideology for principle, and cooperating with the "enemy" for a purpose more meaningful and a goal more laudable than the advancement of one’s own career.
One of the best things about on-line articles is readers' comments. In the comment sections, knowledgeable readers shred Masciotra's article for factual errors as well as leap in logic especially when it comes to his conclusions about the impact of professional sports on Indianapolis' local economy.