Editorial: Let’s get downtown ready to be the center of attention

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When the people organizing the College Football Playoff National Championship visited IBJ last month, reporter Mickey Shuey asked a key question: Do you think downtown will be ready for an event like this?

He was referring to January, when Indianapolis will host the championship, an event expected to bring 100,000 people to the city.

And the answer was encouraging: “I really do,” said Susan Baughman, president of the Indianapolis Host Committee. “I’ve seen great improvement in the downtown core, and I’ve been really optimistic and pleased to see how the conventions are coming in.”

Case in point: Some 55,000 FFA members and leaders are downtown this week for one of the biggest conventions the city will host this year.

Baughman is also right that downtown feels more alive every day, with full capacity open for Colts and Pacers games, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra back in concert and events occurring more regularly on the Circle again.

Just this week, IBJ’s Women of Influence event drew 550 people to the Indiana Roof Ballroom.

Still, there’s work to do for downtown to be in tiptop shape for the college football championship—alleys to clean, construction to finish, improvements to make in sidewalks and other infrastructure.

And we think one key is for more workers to be downtown. More workers lead more restaurants and shops to reopen with longer hours and bigger staffs. It leads more companies to take more pride in the appearance of their buildings, their windows and their sidewalks. It creates more overall energy, which leads to yet more people coming downtown.

Why does that matter? Because, as we’ve written here many times, downtown’s health is important to the health of the region overall.

Downtown is central Indiana’s heart. Without it beating strong, the rest of the region could atrophy.

And so it’s time for companies to bring their workers back full time—and by full time, we don’t mean without the possibility of flexible work schedules. We embrace the fact that the future workplace is one in which many employees can be remote some of the time.

But a surprising number of companies have not brought back employees at all. Or they allow workers to come in if they want to, with no requirement that they actually do so.

That isn’t good for downtown, which isn’t good for the region.

Of course, we recognize that leaders must make the decisions that are best for their companies and their workers. But we think that calculation involves some thought about what it means for the larger community.

Mark Howell, chairman of the Indianapolis Host Committee, told IBJ last week that the football championship is “not going to sneak up on us,” meaning there’s time for the city and organizations like Visit Indy and Downtown Indy Inc. to continue the impressive work they’ve done to revitalize downtown.

But it’s up to all of us—including the business owners that call downtown home—to make it happen.•


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One thought on “Editorial: Let’s get downtown ready to be the center of attention

  1. There is no doubt that the lack of the normal downtown office workforce hammered downtown’s vitality. I was surprised at the ghost town feel even with all the new apartment developments. Those residents seem to have come back, but it’s still not the same without downtown workers. However, let’s be honest, driving downtown for a normal workday is currently a nightmare due to road construction. I can only imagine how horrible traffic would be if all those office workers were back. The streets that feed downtown are restricted with construction blocking lanes, but work rarely seen taking place. If a business has productivity and content employees working remotely, I don’t know I’d upset that apple cart by requiring them to sit in traffic and, in some cases, pay for parking. The long term health of downtown needs office workers. Businesses need to see the culture benefits of being in the office so they tolerate the current pain of construction.