Sports Business

SPORTS: Rome won't burn if we remember to stick together

March 12, 2007

Recently, I attended a Stanley K. Lacy Leadership Seminar at the Downtown Marriott.

Members of the socalled "City Committee"-a group that convened three decades ago to brainstorm and map the future of India n a p o l i s - w e r e addressing younger professionals who well could be involved in determining the direction for our city over the next 30 years.

Louis Mahern, who was then a leading state Democratic senator helping to push bipartisan support for projects such as the Hoosier Dome, said, "I believe if it can be imagined, it can be done."

Added Dr. Ned Lamkin, a former state representative, "Dream no small dreams; make no small plans."

Said Tom King, former Eli Lilly and Co. executive, "It's about vision ... identifying a doable project within that vision ... not caring who gets the credit ... flexibility ... an element of risk and perseverance."

And the result, said then-attorney and now Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm, "is that we produced big, broad ripples from the pebbles we threw."

Even for an old-timer, I found it to be pretty inspiring stuff because the influence-or even the recognition-of the old guard is fading. Many who were in that ballroom have little concept of yesterday's Indianapolis and how the pieces fell into place to become the much more hip, happening Indy we are now.

But as architect Jim Browning, another of the City Committee panelists, said, "We've got to keep that momentum going."

And there were relative youngsters in the audience who, in fact, will be the influencers and decision-makers of tomorrow. Momentum, or lack thereof, will be in their hands.

Certainly, there is ample reason to believe the next generation will have the tools, so to speak. Lucas Oil Stadium ensures both the Indianapolis Colts' long-term future and the steady arrival of NCAA men's and women's Final Fours over the next three-plus decades.

Conseco Fieldhouse means the same-not just for the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever, but for the wide variety of events that building already has shown it can adapt to. They put swimming pools in the place, for crying out loud.

Last June's announcement of the Big Ten women's and men's tournaments was doubly significant, both in attracting the events and the benefits that can be derived from them, and in making the statement that Indianapolis still is willing to compete and will bring the necessary resources to do so.

Still, I worry about the increasing fractionalization occurring in our city. Even as the new stadium rises and the formal bid for the Super Bowl reaches its final stages, there is a growing undercurrent of discontent.

I listen to a lot of talk radio, read the blogs, and follow letters to the editor. And, without question, some of that conversation-even in the wake of the Colts' Super Bowl victory-is anything but supportive of downtown development in general and sports in particular.

To the critics, it's about misplaced priorities. Cops are unhappy. Ministers are unhappy. Taxpayers are unhappy. Some of the bloggers and commentators are convinced Indianapolis is no less than the Roman Empire on verge of collapse. I'm almost convinced they'd like to see the city crumble, if only to justify their predictions. But many of the most vocal naysayers have arrived from somewhere else, and relatively recently. They have no appreciation for or perspective on what has transpired here.

The City Committee guys do have that perspective. They not only envisioned the transformation, but implemented it.

Anyway, the day after attending the SKL seminar, I spoke to the Downtown Kiwanis Club about sports in Indianapolis. Afterward, in the question-and-answer session, someone wanted to know, "Could Indianapolis host the Olympics?" It's a question I often hear. I always answer the same way. If someone had asked me in 1967 if Indianapolis could host 6,000 athletes, marshal 30,000 volunteers, and raise the funds to stage the Pan American Games, I would have said, "No way." But what happened? Twenty years later, we hosted the Pan Am Games. Dream big and make no small plans. If it can be imagined, it can be done.

That's something for members of that next generation to consider as they move into leadership roles and plot the Indianapolis in which they will raise their families. Let's hope they do as well as the City Committee. At the very least, they have far more to work with.



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. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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