BENNER: Will Super Bowl truly leave a lasting legacy?

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Bill Benner on sports

The countdown clock on my desk tells me there are now just 200 days and change remaining until the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

But I already have begun to think about the 200 days after the Super Bowl … and beyond.

What stirred those thoughts is a wonderful piece that has been airing on WFYI-TV Channel 20 titled, “More Than A Game: The Indianapolis Super Bowl Legacy.”

Produced by one of WFYI’s premier storytellers, Jim Simmons, the half-hour documentary examines the multi-faceted plans—now rapidly becoming reality—to use the Super Bowl as a catalyst for redevelopment on the near-east side.

This is about more than just changing a neighborhood. It’s about changing lives.

Critics of professional sports insist that the teams and the venues required to host them are more about taking than giving.

They take tax dollars that could be better prioritized. They take entertainment dollars and funnel them to wealthy owners and wealthy athletes. They take policing and security that could be directed at more legitimate needs.

There is some truth in all of that.

And in the Super Bowl, the ultimate sports orgy of our time, we will witness firsthand all the excesses the critics abhor. For more than a week, our city will become captive to the event. Then the game will leave town. Then what?

Will Indianapolis be better for it? I think so, but can’t be certain.

The Eastside Legacy project offers hope. It is not words, but actions.

James Taylor, one of the most dedicated community servants I’ve come across, is executive director of John H. Boner Community Center on East 10th Street. In the WFYI piece, he quotes a neighborhood resident who says, “We want to make sure that folks who lived in our community in the worst of times have an opportunity to remain in our community in the best of times.”

So the Jefferson Apartment Building has been renovated to provide modern low-income housing. It has just been announced that half of the 32 homes being rehabbed on the near-east side—all to offer affordable housing—have been completed. The 10th Street corridor is showing renewed signs of life, anchored by the Pogues Run food co-op. By fall, 2,012 new trees will have been planted.

And construction is well under way on the Youth Education Town on the campus of Arsenal Technical High School. YET will be the centerpiece of The Chase Near East Side Legacy Center, which will serve as a health, recreational and educational resource facility for near-east side families for years to come.

All of it is being paid for from an array of private, public and corporate sources.

From my downtown office window, meanwhile, I follow daily progress in converting the three blocks of Georgia Street between Conseco Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center into a (soon-to-be) tree-lined corridor that is certain to become a popular gathering place for our citizenry long after it serves its Super Bowl Village purpose.

And beyond the bricks and mortar, there is this: a breast cancer cure initiative that Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee President and CEO Allison Melangton believes can have a global impact.

On July 14, Melangton unveiled “Indy’s Super Cure,” a partnership between the host committee and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. The tissue bank, which collects healthy breast tissue for research, is the only one of its kind. The “Super Cure” program aims to increase awareness, tissue donors and funds with the goal of finding a cure for the disease that strikes one of every eight women.

So, I circle back to my premise. After the countdown clock strikes zero, after the circus leaves town, after the breathless anticipation turns into a lengthy exhale, will we have improved lives? Neighborhoods? A downtown street? Served as the catalyst for a cure of a deadly disease?

Will there be a sense that the give has been as great as the take?

At some point, we will need to ask that question. Perhaps we should start with a near-east-side resident, or a youngster in an after-school program at the YET Center, or a Georgia Street vendor, or a Komen Tissue Bank researcher.•


Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.


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