Economy and Sports Business

SUSAN WILLIAMS Commentary: Keep Statehouse free of 'March Madness'

March 7, 2005

Commentary Keep Statehouse free of 'March Madness'

"March Madness" is upon us. Downtown will play host to 37 basketball games in 37 days. Visitors from all over the state and the nation will flock to our city and be dazzled by the ambiance and excitement we have refined over many years of hosting major events. Even the most profoundly addicted hoops fans should get their cravings satisfied.

As we enjoy the month's activities, we must be mindful not to take our good fortune for granted. This extraordinary month of March didn't occur serendipitously, but rather was the result of decades of focused effort and investment by our political leadership, the corporate leaders and the community at large. Failure to reaffirm that focus and investment could easily erode our competitive edge to those cities that have been jealously nipping at our heels the last two decades.

As we enjoy the month-long celebration of the sport Hoosiers love best, we must also keep an eye on crucial decisionmaking under way: another game of sorts, not played in a fieldhouse or a stadium, but under the golden dome of Indiana's premier political arena, the Statehouse. Our lawmakers hold the key to our continued ability to be one of the most desirable locations in the United States to host elite athletic events as well as high-profile, immensely profitable conventions.

Our city's prowess as a host of sporting events and conventions not only has been a critical economic engine, but also propelled the image of Indianapolis. Time and again, visitors leave our city in awe of our vibrant downtown, our ability as hosts, and the effervescence of Hoosier hospitality.

That's the reputation envisioned when the "city committee" convened at the Columbia Club and fashioned the "sports strategy" nearly three decades ago, a bold vision made possible by a public/private partnership and bipartisan support at the local and state levels. Every mayor since Richard Lugar and every governor since Robert Orr supported that effort because of the economic and image implications. During the Hudnut administration, lawmakers created funding mechanisms that built the original Hoosier Dome and expanded the convention center without an NFL team!

Retaining the Colts is clearly important to our local and state economy as well as our national image. A new stadium, however, means much more. A new state-of-the-art flexible venue sets Indianapolis, once again, at the cutting edge as we compete for elite sporting events well into the future.

Likewise, the convention center expansion not only ensures our ability to attract major convention business, it is equally critical to many elite sporting events. For example, the Men's and Women's Final Four require both the Dome and the entire convention center space as well to carry out tournament-related meetings and activities. The convention center expansion cannot be separated from the stadium discussion. They are inextricably interrelated.

So, as we immerse ourselves in March Madness 2005, we offer warm greetings to fellow Hoosiers from around the state who come to Indianapolis to cheer on their hometown boys' and girls' high school teams. We extend a hearty Hoosier welcome to visitors from outside our state who come to support their men's and women's collegiate teams.

But do not allow the euphoria of "Hoosier hysteria" to become a distraction that takes our eye off the ball. We must also watch from the sidelines, cheering on our legislators in the hopes that, by the end of March Madness, Gov. Mitch Daniels will have legislation on his desk that will provide a plausible, equitable funding mechanism for the new stadium and the convention center expansion-a slam dunk that will move the capital city forward.



Williams is president of Indiana Sports Corp. and a former longtime member of the City-County Council. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to swilliams@ibj.com.
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