EDITORIAL: Sports payoff is on the way through 'legacy project'

March 27, 2010

Sports may be overemphasized in our society, but there’s no doubt they’ve been good to Indianapolis.

The city received two huge reminders of that this month, with the news that the NCAA has agreed to hold a major event here every year until 2039, and that State Farm Insurance will lend $7 million to the 2012 Super Bowl “legacy project” on the near-east side.

A lynchpin of the city’s successful Super Bowl bid, the legacy project aims to ignite redevelopment of a struggling neighborhood. Plans include rehabbing or building 300 housing units and constructing a National Football League-caliber practice facility at Arsenal Technical High School that will be turned over to the community as a recreation center.

The State Farm loan is a giant leap forward, said James Taylor, CEO of the John H. Boner Community Center, which is co-organizing the legacy project.

“It’s huge, absolutely, huge,” Taylor said. “It’s the largest single social investment we’ve had as a neighborhood. Without gas in the gas tank, all the hopes and aspirations of a neighborhood go nowhere.”

Much of the money will be spent on housing in close proximity to the East 10th Street corridor and on commercial projects along the corridor itself.

The loan from the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer is to be repaid within 10 years at a 3.5-percent annual interest rate. Organizers of the legacy project expect to be able to pay it off with profits from reselling refurbished homes.

We salute State Farm for helping to jump-start a neighborhood in dire need, where four of 10 homes sit vacant. Thanks also go to the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, which is trying to leverage funding for 32 new or rehabilitated houses and contributed $500,000. The Lumina Foundation for Education has donated $250,000.

And companies in the construction industry ranging from architecture firms to environmental testing companies have stepped up to provide either free or steeply discounted services.

This is the kind of public-private partnership that has served the city so well over the years in achieving successes in amateur and professional sports.

This summer is going to be a busy one in the area around Tech High School. HealthNet is building a $6.5 million health center at 10th Street and Keystone Avenue. Across the street, a $7 million apartment building for seniors will be built.

“We’ll be under siege in terms of construction,” Taylor said.

That’s exactly what needs to happen to turn a struggling area like the near-east side into a viable option for residents and businesses.

The local sports economy has played a big role in revitalizing downtown in the last three decades, but its effect on other areas of the city hasn’t been as evident. Thanks to the NFL, State Farm and numerous other organizations, the near-east side is poised to demonstrate that sports can be a catalyst for even broader change.•


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