VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Building a business case for what the city needs next

March 31, 2008

With the deflation of the RCA Dome, Lucas Oil Stadium will become the home of the Colts, the NCAA Final Four and, hopefully, the 2012 Super Bowl.

In late October, the new Indianapolis Airport will become the remarkable new gateway to our city. Yes, 2008 should be an amazing year.

Then what?

Expansion of the Indiana Convention Center and construction of the JW Marriott complex will soon be under way. As we bike around downtown on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, we might stop and wonder about the vacant Market Square site.

Then what?

The sparkling Central Canal will be alive with people and some stray goldfish, a pleasant place for visitors to walk and see our energized city-from residences to restaurants to research. It might cause us to wonder why Fall Creek can't become an asset like the Central Canal, with a growing Ivy Tech as an anchor.

There's still work to do

Without focusing on private development, consider these potential programs:

An effective "regional" transit system with the development of transit-oriented residential centers. (Some economists think we'll hit the tipping point on transit when gas hits $4.50 a gallon.)

Neighborhood restorations, such as Fall Creek Place, to chase away thugs and get vacant properties back on the tax rolls.

Completion of an "airport city" for companies that need the unique worldwide access that FedEx offers.

The Wishard Hospital replacement is already in the works.

The redevelopment of the Lafayette Square and Washington Square areas.

Completion of the eastern edge of downtown Indianapolis.

A more fully developed White River edge, offering waterfront property values and new tax revenues.

A restored Fall Creek with more of that waterfront access.

Learning from ourselves

At a time when financial markets are reeling, the federal budget is growing and the cost of energy is soaring, each of these programs will require a compelling business case to attract popular support and alternative financing.

Essentially, a business case offers a clear statement of the business problem as well as a potential solution, outlining consequences and applying metrics that allow comparisons to doing something, doing nothing, doing less or doing more. Most business cases focus on how to pay the bill.

Representatives from other cities visit Indy all of the time to see "how we did it." We should be doing our own reverse engineering on several successful efforts:

We don't need to import a genius to tell us how downtown Indianapolis was created. The original talent is still here. The same thought process (with obviously different methods) can be applied to 38th Street, Washington Street and other areas of the city.

The implementation of Fall Creek Place is still fresh in the minds of the creators, so neighborhood organizations should pick their brains.

The privatization ideas of the Daniels' administration should be studied more closely, because public funding is unlikely.

The remarkable development of the new urban center in Carmel is an obvious case study.

The answer is global

The driving force behind our future development will be our ability to position central Indiana squarely in the world. The "Creative Class" that all cities seek to attract is probably going to come from Asia, not some other state. That also means that the funding may also come from other parts of the world.

Consider Mayor Greg Ballard's idea for a "Chinatown" in Indianapolis. Few of us appreciate the sizable number of Asian residents already living and working in our city. Expect to learn more from this population when the Indianapolis Art Center hosts the Chinese Art Festival this summer (a classic case of art on the leading edge of economic development).

Then what about a vibrant Indian community? The ideas used at Fall Creek Place can be put to work to create some very special places with an indigenous feel.

Then, if FedEx will bring the huge Airbus A-380s to the Indianapolis sorting center, Indianapolis will be on every map in Asia.

The cultural bottom line

What's next? We can "re-design" the future of our city by opening our doors. Our future will be about culture-other cultures. As the price of gas climbs to new records, we can learn from people in other parts of the world where fuel has always been precious. The future of our city also will be about investment-new sources of investment.

If we can learn anything from the current financial crisis, the soaring cost of energy or the crisis of global warming, it should be that a successful business case for our city must have more than one bottom line.

Altemeyer is vice chairman of BSA LifeStructures, the Indianapolis-area's largest architectural firm. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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