Education & Workforce Development and Economic Development and Sports Business

SPORTS: A grim look at what the city's future could hold

August 21, 2006

I was having a fitful time trying to sleep. For some reason, the word "priorities" kept running through my mind.

Then, suddenly, I felt as if I were awake, standing in downtown Indianapolis. I caught site of a calendar in a storefront window. I blinked and shook my head. It read August 2026, but the city didn't look 20 years more modern. If anything, it looked 20 years older. It was as if time had passed by the Indy I knew. I saw a policeman. Then I noticed people marching down Meridian Street. "What's the deal?" I asked the officer. "Mayor Carpenter has ordered a citywide day of reflection," he said. "Didn't you see it in the Internet Star?" he said. "Our murder and crime rate is up again." "Wow," I said. "The Indy I remember was having the same trouble." "Yeah," the cop said. "We thought we took care of that." "How?" I asked. "Priorities," the cop replied. "We reordered our priorities. Trashed that whole sports and downtown development thing and put the money toward police, jails, schools and social programs. Seemed like the right thing to do at the time." "So we reduced crime and improved our schools?" "Well, that was the theory, anyway. We do have less crime downtown, but it's primarily because nobody comes downtown anymore. There's not much to do." "Not much to do? What about the Colts, the Pacers, the Symphony, Circle Centre ..." "Where have you been, on the moon? The Colts and Pacers are gone." "What? What about Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse?" "Well, folks got so worked up about potential cost overruns that the stadium construction was halted. Then they kept saying our priorities were all messed up. Next thing you knew, it was converted to a jail. Darn nice jail, I might add. "Then, when the city reneged on the stadium, the Colts bolted for L.A., where Manning led them to a couple of Super Bowls before he retired." "But the city expanded the Convention Center?" "Nah ... said that was for visitors, not for locals, so it was scrapped, too." "What about the Fieldhouse?" "It's a combination magnet school and community center." "That couldn't have made the Simons happy." "It didn't. They moved to L.A., too. Meanwhile, the Pacers left for Oklahoma City." "We still have the NCAA?" "Gone, too," the cop said. "No stadium meant no Final Fours and then no NCAA. Their headquarters were converted to a municipal courts building to handle all the cases." "So what's left?" "We've still got Victory Field, but the Indians only play day games because no one wants to come downtown at night. Then, when people stopped coming downtown, Circle Centre went under. Bunch of restaurants and hotels went belly up, too. Lots of people lost jobs. And with few entertainment options and a Convention Center that was too small, the conventiongoers headed for other cities."

"So what about diverting that money to crime and education?"

"We discovered that no amount of money could convince kids to stay in school if that wasn't a priority-there's that word again-at the family level. In the meantime, the less we had to offer those who were graduating, the more eager they were to live somewhere else. Indy had become Naptown again."

"Brain drain," I said.

"Drain? It was more like someone opened the floodgates. That's why Lilly left. Couldn't attract smart people to live here."

"Lilly! Gone? Didn't anyone see that investment in sports and multi-use facilities is an economic development tool that helps create and sustain jobs across the socio-economic spectrum? Didn't anyone see that there's absolutely no correlation between building a stadium and the crime rate?"

"Nah. It was too easy to play the class card. Works every time."

"At least tell me you're arresting the bad guys and locking them up."

"Sure," said the cop. "But as long as drugs and guns are plentiful, as long as life and education have no value, as long as violence is glorified in every aspect of our culture, even a stadium-size jail isn't big enough."

At that moment, I awoke in a cold sweat. Thank goodness I was only dreaming.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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