When Detroit native Michael Browning first visited Indianapolis back in the mid-1970s, he did so as an executive “on loan” to a company in the city. He didn’t plan to stay.
As a matter of fact, he couldn’t wait to leave. That is, until the opportunity for service piqued his interest—and led him to put down roots in his adopted city and become both a prominent developer and a civic leader.
Jim Morris, then the head of Lilly Endowment Inc. (and later of Pacers Sports & Entertainment) asked for Browning’s leadership on a myriad of sports-related civic projects, from the U.S. Open Clay Courts Championships to the 1982 National U.S. Olympic Festival.
“Jim had put together a group that was back then referred to as the City Committee,” Browning recalled. “Jim asked me to be a part of that group. It wasn’t just for sports projects. They were also interested in expanding the Convention Center and the facilities that would support it. So, it had a pretty broad base.”
Seeing the plans that the community’s business, political and philanthropic leaders had for the community changed Browning’s view of Indianapolis.
“I came to see this city through a different lens,” he said. “And I was happy to help and happy to work on those kinds of projects. I felt they would help the city, and if it helped the city, it would help my business. It would be good for everyone.”
Browning’s participation was certainly good for Indianapolis’ push to become an amateur sports capital. Since 1988, he has served on the board of the Indiana Sports Corp, including four years as chairman; as an organizing member of the 1982 National Sports Festival; and as a member of the Pan American Games Organizing Committee. In addition, he has served on the board of Visit Indy for 34 years (as chairman since 2011) and led negotiations to move the NCAA headquarters to Indianapolis.
“There have been over 300 events that the Indiana Sports Corp. has helped promote,” Browning said. “They kept raising the bar for us and helped make these public-private partnerships work.”
Somehow, he also found time to remake the Indianapolis skyline. His company, Browning Investments, was one of the most prominent office-building developers in downtown Indianapolis and Carmel during the 1980s. Browning’s roughly 30 buildings include the former Thomson Consumer Electronics headquarters, Pan Am Plaza and the NCAA headquarters.
However impressive those structures might be, Browning doesn’t think the city’s skyline would be all that different had he never come here.
“I think it would look pretty much like it looks now,” he said. “The transformation of downtown would have occurred with or without any single individual. There were a lot of people involved in this. It was definitely a team sport. And I’m just happy to be a part of it.”