Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Open the Market Square Arena process

May 25, 2013

Mayor Greg Ballard should reverse his decision to keep the redevelopment proposals for the former Market Square Arena site under wraps. Opening the process to the public, thus sourcing the crowd, would increase chances of a better fit for the neighborhood and the city.

Much speculation is swirling around the six proposals under consideration by the administration, particularly one for a 52-story tower that would eclipse the tallest building in the state, Chase Tower, by four floors. The size of the project is probably a pipe dream, but that’s why it’s generating plenty of intrigue, as IBJ reporter Scott Olson writes in a story on page three this week.

This is about a lot more than satiating inquisitive minds, though. It’s fundamentally about the principle of open government. Ballard shouldn’t need reminding that citizens have the right to know what their government is thinking, and this alone is sufficient reason to pull back the curtain.

Ballard also is mistaken in believing the city can wrangle a better deal by interviewing developers outside of public glare. By the time the winner is announced and enters the regular approval gauntlet, it’s too late to integrate major changes.

Opening a government process to sunshine always draws silly, uninformed comment. But it also attracts keen observations from people who know the city, the market, the industry, the neighborhood. The few people in city hall sifting the proposals, however savvy they might be, are more isolated than necessary from the considerable knowledge and experience of dozens of outside experts who might weigh in. The city needs those perspectives.

Transparency is also a reasonably effective antidote to hubris, as outside accountability has a way of stopping imprudent decisions before they get put in writing. The more that government officials, or anyone in the private sector for that matter, think they can handle a complex decision like this one by themselves, the more cause for caution.

Beyond these reasons, opening the process helps build trust and confidence in government. Decisions made behind closed doors are decisions easily second-guessed.

And openness on the MSA site might help blunt fallout from the Land Bank scandal that broke wide open last week. The last thing Ballard needs now is a bungled selection process.

The parking expanse that once was the Indiana Pacers palace has been spruced up with landscaping, but it still separates the vibrant downtown from neighborhoods immediately east, communicating a message that the city can’t attract quality redevelopment, can’t get its act together.

Ballard made the right call to take another run at filling the space. It’s time to move ahead.

But he should recognize that the project he green-lights will alter the skyline, the neighborhood, the movement of people and the city’s reputation. The decision is too important to rest with a small klatch of people.•

Send comments on this editorial to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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