NATE FELTMAN: The alarm is ringing for Indy’s next leaders

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The concern about the future of our capital city is growing by the hour. Whether you talk to small-business owners, workers who want to come back downtown, hotel owners, police officers or mayors of our fastest-growing suburbs, there is more concern now about Indy’s future than anyone ever recalls.

The comment I continue to hear goes something like this: “It took us decades to build Indy into what it had become before the pandemic, violence and property destruction, but it is amazing just how fast it can all come tumbling down.”

Of course, many cities across America are reeling as the result of workers not returning to their offices, canceled conventions, near-zero business travel and reluctance of suburbanites to venture downtown after the violence. We will eventually get past the pandemic and hopefully not see a repeat of violence and destruction, but Indy’s vulnerabilities have been exposed.

Our downtown is arguably more at risk than those of some other cities due to our heavy reliance on the sports and convention business that drive our downtown economy. As IBJ has well documented through the years, political and civic leaders bet heavily on professional and amateur sports decades ago and the strategy has paid off handsomely to date.

It is important to remember that the bet was a risky one at the time. Former Mayor Bill Hudnut made a huge political gamble by taking the “build it and they will come” strategy in erecting the Hoosier Dome before the Colts had officially committed to Indy. The CEOs of our largest companies (e.g., One America, Lilly) and not-for-profits (e.g., Lilly Endowment), as well as our political leaders at both the state and local level, came together with time, talent and treasure to back the sports strategy.

Today, there is a feeling among our civic leaders that a new strategy and vision is needed that takes into account our changing economy and consumer preferences and builds off of our previous success. Certainly, the sports and convention business will continue to be an important part of Indy’s future, but to date, there is no consensus on the next big idea that will drive our city’s (and thus our state’s) growth.

There is, however, a developing consensus that for Indy (and Indiana) to be successful long term, we must place some bets and take calculated risks like our city forefathers did in the 1970s and 1980s. The feeling is that, in order for Indy to continue to punch above its weight class, we must once again devise bold strategies that set us apart in order to attract talent and investment.

But who will lead with big ideas and bring along all the players that must be at the table in order to effect change? It feels like our civic leaders are waiting on the political leaders to develop the vision and strategy, but none is forthcoming.

In a recent conversation with one of our great, young civic leaders, I asked him what he is observing. His response was telling: “Indy is being out ‘Indy’ed’ by peer cities like Denver, Austin and Columbus. While we are living off our past success, political and civic leaders in these cities are working on new strategies and buying into the same plan, just as Indy did in the ’70s and ’80s.”

This should be yet another wake-up call in a year the alarm has been ringing nonstop. Crisis often can lead to positive change. We have a responsibility to act and act now. Let’s use this moment to work together on the next big idea(s) for Indy and then go out and execute, take some risks, and continue Indy’s and Indiana’s economic renaissance.•

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Feltman is CEO of IBJ Media and a shareholder in the company. To comment on this column, send email to nfeltman@ibj.com.

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11 thoughts on “NATE FELTMAN: The alarm is ringing for Indy’s next leaders

  1. Maybe the new leaders AND their will be new ones!
    Will clean up the highway’s and streets. They are unsafe full of trash and gravel and garbage filling up the infrastructure for drainage.
    Indianapolis has now become little Chicago.
    With gun violence as well. No thanks to any help from our mayor.

  2. https://www.facebook.com/KelliandSteve/posts/4201972886540372

    Nate, please access the above link. Broad Ripple, Carmel, Rick’s Boatyard, etc. are all busy. I used to go to my favorite downtown steakhouse and gave tours for Indiana Landmarks. My husband and I went downtown frequently. The riots – not the pandemic- nailed the lid on downtown Indy. It would be great if Mayor Hogsett resigned, or we have to wait for a change in leadership. However, another Democrat could be elected. I would bring Roger Penske into the discussion, since he’s an ideas man. It took decades to get Indy where it was prior to the current administration. Downtown was thriving, and people went there to live, work, and dine.

  3. Our best bet would be to strategically make investments in drawing people into Center Township and the Mile Square to live, not just work. Drawing in people from the suburbs with a Downtown mall and stadiums worked for a while, but we don’t collect enough tax revenue from them to sustain the infrastructure they require. Conventions and sports are not resilient industries; they are highly fickle and only work when there is a strong economy. Fostering small spaces for business incubation, dense housing, walkability, neighborhood villages, and transit is a recipe for success. To make it work, we need to restructure ourselves on a regional scale. The fractured fiefdoms of the city and suburbs is a failure and hurts us all.

  4. Too bad the Rethink 65/70 group got ignored by city leaders. That project would have been trans-formative for the city with so much new property opened up for development in the city core.

    1. I agree. I-65/70 downtown is probably the biggest obstacle to Indianapolis thriving in the future. Although, I do not agree with the Rethink 65/70 solution of a depressed freeway, (the most expensive, least beneficial solution), keeping the status quo freeways is a dead end for Indy.

      Check out Boulevard Project Indianapolis.

    2. So what I determined from Facebook-Boulevard Project Indianapolis is when I-65/70 was ran thru Indianapolis it was done with racist intention to redline voting district. And that thru traffic is just an inconvenience and affects the climate.

      My guess is that a small group of enlightened individuals who moved to downtown well after the interstates were built are now inconvenienced by them. And they believe that Indy should be a commuter town where we walk and ride bikes 12 months a year. Nothing more do I want to do is show up for a sales call after riding a bike 4 miles in 90 F heat and 55% humidity or tromp through 2″ of snow for a mile at 10 F. Or we can take the mass transit system that take no one close to where we are going unless your going to one of the enlightened groups destinations. It is this ideology that elected the mayor that allowed you sacred ground to be destroyed in short order. Of course I have a solution if the enlightened want this play ground increase the taxes in center twp. to pay for the projects and then you won’t have to worry about it because the taxes will be so high everyone will move back to the suburbs and I65/70 will be even more important to get the masses back to town.

    3. Steve R., here’s what you may have missed on the Boulevards FB page. The freeways do not end at I-465. If you need to get into The City, you can still take the interstates to within about a mile of downtown, and they will be faster with less traffic.
      If you still need to come into downtown, and are adverse to walking, biking, or public transit, you can still drive. The Boulevard is four lanes and follows the exact path as the interstates in downtown.
      Need to by-pass Indianapolis? We built a downtown by-pass called I-465. What we don’t need is a by pass downtown to the downtown by-pass. That makes no sense, and besides, it Is not productive, generates no revenue, and sits on some of the most valuable property in Indiana. From a conservative, business point of view, the Boulevard makes much more sense.

  5. “Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous.”

    The future for a vital, thriving, economically and environmentally sustainable Indianapolis does not include the downtown freeways. At this point, I-70/65 in downtown do more harm than good. Furthermore, they cannot grown, expand or increase the number of people they transport. They are a dead end – financially, culturally and in transportation ability.

    The Boulevard Project Indianapolis shows how a future Indianapolis can have better transportation and increase capacity. How it can increase the tax base, increase business, be financially vital, address climate change, and create a more vibrant, livable city. That kind of future for Indy benefits all of Indiana.

    https://www.facebook.com/BlvdProjectIndy/

  6. Memo to those of you who somehow think an interstate is blocking progress:
    It’s poor mayoral leadership
    It’s poor city council leadership
    It’s riots that were not stopped or even condemned
    It’s the Mile square that has turned into a liberal project for drug users and homeless.
    Add it all up and wake up!

  7. No resignation necessary. Hogsett did to create the riots. Perhaps if justice were indeed available equally, the unrest or so-called riots, would not have happened. And, I dare say that drug abuse issues are not limited to the Mile Square but extend well past the county boundary into some very fine neighborhoods. Some Indy residents and gripers need to live in a real city. Indy is a facsimile thereof. So, please elaborate on what the mayor should have done and how that would haver resulted in paradise on Washington Street. Portland OR continues to be beset with unrest, yet its downtown and neighborhoods remain vibrant, attractive and growing. It’s transport network is multi-modal with quality bus service, light rail lines, and pedestrian amenities. Indianapolis must seek to become competitive but to do so based on local qualities. Indy, sadly, is not yet i the league of Denver and Austin, cities with much higher population growth and city councils (it’s not just the mayor) that ardently seek to improve the city with urban aspects rather than suburban retrofits. Denver and Austin focused on high density downtown areas. Denver long ago focus on a comprehensive rail and robust system for the region, not just the city and county of Denver. Austin just approved a plan for a greatly expanded transit network. Many think freeways are enough for Indy, but these are poorly planned as exhibited with out of date and inefficient loop ramps; major junctions with I-465 at Meridian, I-69 and I-70 on the Eastside should be at least directional ramps. Schools are a major issue as few families are excited about mediocre schools. Neighborhoods and housing stock needs to be improved and some owners need a tutorial in maintenance. Comparable housing stock in Denver and Austin is well maintained and attractive. But, alas, taxes are higher in these cities but so is the quality of life. Indy can compete, but it has a late start and is burdened with too many looking back without vision and without willingness to invest. And, Indiana shows many companies that it is keen on micromanagement from the Statehouse with ridiculous liquor sale laws, asinine requirements for transit (seek contributions for x% tax – NO other agency in the US has this clearly poison-pill requirement), and regressive laws (no light rail) where a federal policy exists to determine effectiveness.

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