Tourism & Hospitality and Government and Economic Development and Sports Business

SPORTS: 'Our' future extends beyond Marion County line

June 13, 2005

NOBLESVILLE-That Gov. Mitch Daniels, aboard his RV-1, was caught in the daily late-afternoon I-69, State Road 37 traffic snarl and was a half-hour late for his Hamilton County town meeting here last week represented a theme of his presentation.

We are no longer a city, but a region.

With that in mind, Our Man Mitch has been venturing to the counties contiguous to Marion, pitching the pending 1-percent food and beverage tax that will supply a small-emphasis on small, an estimated 10 percent collectively-portion of the funding for the proposed new stadium and expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

Anyone who has stopped by this space before knows how I feel about the need for the new stadium and expanded Convention Center. And my gut feeling tells me the majority of the readership of IBJ, folks who understand the competitive nature of businesses and cities, believes in the project as an economic development investment for our future.

And by "our" future, I mean those of us who work and live in central Indiana, not just in Indianapolis.

Which is what the governor told the overflow crowd that gathered in Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center.

"We must think of ourselves as one community in central Indiana," Daniels said.

Indeed, from Hamilton County alone, some 46,000 residents cross the county line to work in Indianapolis. And untold thousands take advantage of downtown amenities, such as the Indianapolis Zoo, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the NCAA Hall of Champions, Circle Centre mall or, of course, the multiple sports options.

Nonetheless, curious, I wanted to hear what folks in the outlying areas were thinking-and, mostly, objecting to-as their respective county councils prepare to vote whether to accept the 1-percent tax, knowing that 50 percent of those proceeds will stay in the respective county for its own projects.

Again, I see this as a basically harmless tax: Fifty cents on a $50 tab in the contiguous counties; $1 on a $50 tab in Marion County. For what the money brings, I'm happy to pay it.

What I see in the larger picture, if we don't move forward with this project, is the loss of 25 years of progress in the sportstourism-convention business.

"We live in a world," Daniels said, "where if you tread water, you will sink, and if you stand still, you will get passed by."

Still, most of those who chose to address the governor-I'd say by about a 2-to-1 margin-did not support the project.

"I agree with you on most issues, but you are wrong on this one," said one woman, who identified herself as Donna.

"Businesses should support themselves," said a man named James. "People of means shouldn't be pushing their expenses on taxpayers. I consider this the most offensive kind of welfare."

"The state and local governments need to stop taxing people," Mark said. "It's not in our budgets."

"Instead of money for a new stadium, shouldn't we be finding money to hire teachers?" another woman asked.

But there were supporters, people who saw the jobs that will be created by the project, the need for us to think of ourselves as a region, the lure of attractions, events and conventions that helps empty the pockets of visitors.

It was a fascinating give-and-take, wonderfully American and especially so watching the state's highest elected official, Daniels, so personally and thoughtfully engage the audience, even those who did not agree with him.

He never rebuked anyone, but he did, on occasion, politely disagree. For example, one fellow, Patrick, complained that the original food and beverage tax "failed."

Daniels replied, "It created what it said it would create: a new stadium-the Dome-four Final Fours, a lot of new conventions ... that investment worked out pretty well."

And that, Daniels emphasized, is what this will be about: an investment in Indianapolis and central Indiana.

"If this were just about a football team or a football stadium, it wouldn't have gotten on my list," he said.

"If this was just about the Colts, I wouldn't lift a finger. Will central Indiana be better or not [with this project]? I believe we will be better off, not because of the Colts, but including the Colts."

The solution is ours. All of us in central Indiana. That's something to think about as you sit in the traffic jam on your way home to the 'burbs.



Benner is 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 email to bbenner@ibj.com.
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