EDITORIAL: In Indianapolis, sports venues aren’t built to last

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Indianapolis has made strides toward becoming a “greener” city in the last few years. Among the initiatives is exploring making curbside recycling available to all. Reusing what we discard makes sense, but not everything should be disposable. That includes the sports landmarks we’ve made a habit of turning into rubble.

In just over 35 years, the public has played a role in financing the construction of five large-scale sports facilities and at least two smaller ones. Two of the big ones—Market Square Arena, built for $23.5 million, and the Hoosier Dome, an $82 million investment—never saw their 30th birthdays. One of the smaller ones is in danger, and the other is about to meet the wrecking ball.

The Indianapolis Tennis Center will host its last athletes Aug. 5. Within days of their departure, the bulldozers will move in and flatten another facility that arrived with great fanfare not all that long ago.

The tennis center, built on the west side of downtown for $7 million and opened in 1979, was a gem—according to, among others, NBC tennis analyst Bud Collins, who regularly praised it when he did national telecasts from the annual tournament held there, telling folks across the country what a jewel of a facility we had.

The tennis stadium and its surrounding courts weren’t just for the pros. It hosted youth tennis and aspiring professionals all year long, giving the city a top-notch facility visited by the finest in the sport but open to the public as well.

The tennis center set the city apart in an age when most large cities have a big-time basketball arena, football stadium or ballpark—sometimes all three. Tennis stadiums are rarer assets, as are center-city ice rinks that host aspiring Olympians and amateur hockey leagues. Of course, Indianapolis has one of those, too—actually two rinks, built just before the 1987 Pan American Games as part of the $30 million Pan American Plaza.

Sadly, the rinks, which have recently hosted Olympic hopefuls from around the world, also are in peril. They’re due to be demolished as soon as Kite Realty Group Trust can bring together plans for a commercial development on the real estate they occupy.

We hope those who advocate keeping ice skating and tennis facilities somewhere in the downtown area are successful in their quest. If they are, may whatever is built—even if more modest in scale—be maintained for many decades to come.

The changing economics of professional basketball and football doomed Market Square Arena and the Hoosier Dome. Deferred maintenance and the absence of someone powerful to champion their future worked against the two smaller facilities.

In each case, rational arguments could be made for knocking them down. But making a habit of destroying facilities that cost millions to build—and doing so relatively quickly after their construction—suggests that, as a community, we haven’t done a good job of investing for the long haul.

It’s hard to imagine Conseco Fieldhouse, Victory Field or Lucas Oil Stadium being demolished in our lifetimes, but if history is our guide, nothing should surprise us.•


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