by Jay F. Hein and Allison Melangton
Indianapolis may be America’s biggest small town. It is a city with a million people, three professional sports teams, one of the few Conrad Hilton hotels in the world, and countless cultural amenities. Still, it is a place where you can walk to all these things.
Beyond having pedestrian access to all its big-city amenities, Indianapolis has a culture of public spiritedness that just doesn’t exist in many other places, that is, outside of small towns. When its leaders stand up with an idea two things are typically the case: first, that idea is for the public good rather than personal gain; and second, other leaders say, “How can we help?”
These elements of Indiana’s leadership culture go a long way in explaining the Indianapolis sports strategy that was conceived in the 1970s and is now manifest in the Super Bowl being played at Lucas Oil Stadium. This grand facility stands just yards from the recently expanded convention center that encompasses where the old RCA Dome stood. Much like The Field of Dreams, that dome was built before a pro football team even had Indianapolis on its radar screen. But to properly understand how integral the city’s sports strategy has been to its development and to assess how far the city has come, we need to consider racing.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) was built in 1909 as what could be considered the city’s first sports strategy. As you will read in the “Reflections” section of this magazine, Indianapolis automobile entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher envisioned the raceway as a testing ground for cars before they were delivered to consumers. Noticing that the state had become an epicenter for auto manufacturers and suppliers, Fisher asked, “Indianapolis is going to be the world’s greatest center of horseless carriage manufacturers, what could be more logical than building the world’s greatest racetrack right here?”
The track that Fisher built became known as the Brickyard for the brick surface used to enhance speed, safety and performance. The one hundred years of racing that followed the establishment of the IMS have been called the greatest spectacle in sports. Today, with a racetrack capable of seating a half million customers, the city enjoys a Super Bowl-sized economic benefit every time Indy 500 and NASCAR racers rev up their engines.
But the sport initiative’s story has always been bigger than just the spectacle and financial gain. The strategy has been about building a better community in equal measure. And surely these things are not separate forces. It is the spirit of competition alongside community cohesion that makes sports so attractive and thus what resonates so well with Hoosiers. To see more specifically what that’s all about, please read the Tony Hinkle/John Wooden and Heartland Film Festival essays in this magazine
Indianapolis’ sports strategy is similar to something that Harvard business guru Michael Porter calls economic clusters. For Porter, economic clusters are how regions exploit their natural assets and align their business practices to become the best in the world at certain things. For instance, think of how Silicon Valley arose around Hewlett and Packard tinkering in a one-car garage; Indianapolis did the same thing with sports and civic enterprise.
After being elected the youngest mayor in the nation in 1967, the thirty-five-year-old Dick Lugar galvanized the city’s most talented professionals to transform a city with no discernable reputation into the amateur sports capital of the world. The group’s inaugural action was to create the nation’s first private agency dedicated to using sports to advance both economic development and community well being. Dubbed the Indiana Sports Corporation, it has since been replicated in 350 cities.
Alongside the establishment of the Indiana Sports Corporation, the City of Indianapolis, Lilly Endowment and numerous other partners made an initial investment of $126.4 million to establish a sports infrastructure. As you will read in the cover story, the 1980s brought a whirlwind of improvements to Indianapolis’ sports portfolio. In 1982, the Indiana Sports Corporation authorized the construction of the Hoosier Dome (later renamed the RCA Dome), which attracted the Colts. Other projects included the Indiana University Natatorium, the Major Taylor Velodrome, the Indiana University Track and Field Stadium, the Indiana/World Skating Academy, the William Kuntz Soccer Complex and the Rowing Course at Eagle Creek Park. These brand new facilities attracted numerous amateur sporting events to the city such as the National Sports Festival (1982), the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball finals (1980, 1986, 1991), and the Pan American Games (1987).
By 1990, Indianapolis had firmly secured its seat as the amateur sports capital of the world. Simultaneous, but with much less fanfare, the city’s civic leaders claimed that there are no great cities without great neighborhoods. In doing so, they launched the Greater Indianapolis Neighborhood Initiative and a myriad of subsequent strategies to revitalize distressed urban areas.
Twenty years later, the sports and neighborhood strategies converged through the Super Bowl Legacy Project taking shape on Indianapolis’ Near Eastside. While some criticize sports investments as luxury spending, the renewed Indianapolis sports strategy demonstrates that the sports industry can beget economic flourishing and neighborhood revitalization. This is especially apparent in the “Housing Innovations” section of this magazine.
The Near Eastside of Indianapolis has learned to navigate the turbulence of urban flux. The area contains Indianapolis’ first suburb, Woodruff Place, where some homes still sell for a half million dollars. Just blocks away, real estate prospectors can purchase a home on a credit card with a limit of less than $5,000. In 2004, the neighborhood bore the brunt of the housing crisis as it led the nation in foreclosure rates.
In response to this disaster, Near Eastside residents mobilized. As you will read in the “Playbook” section, neighborhood leaders met at Arsenal Tech High School to design a strategy for recovery. Meanwhile, Mark Miles, President of the Super Bowl Bid Committee, was in search of an idea that would capture the attention of the NFL and give Indianapolis a leg up as the potential host city for the 2012 Super Bowl.
These two pathways merged, and the Indianapolis Super Bowl Legacy Project was born. It is the boldest experiment ever attempted in NFL history by a Super Bowl host city. For Indianapolis, it is simply another chapter in the city’s effort to leverage sports for community well-being. In other words, this project was not a new idea; rather it is part of a decades-long movement toward rebuilding the city from the inside out. Such success jeopardizes the city’s hard-earned reputation as the Amateur Sports Capital of the World in favor of another: the Civic Enterprise Capital of the World.
We hope that you’ll read all the pages that follow. The cover section presents the vision for the Indianapolis sports strategy as well as some highlights from the recent Super Bowl Legacy Project including a $150 million neighborhood redevelopment effort that will build or improve about 200 housing units, construct a new 27,000-square-foot wellness and fitness center, and serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of the East 10th Street business district.
In the second section, we consider how sports can build personal character. Former Colts punter Hunter Smith writes about how he has become champion for sports heroes (from high school to the pros) who use their influence to benefit others. He calls this the “Jersey Effect.” This section includes other inspiring stories about athletic greats known as much for their off-field service as their on-field success. For one, Bart Starr, MVP of Super Bowls I and II, is so identified with high character that the annual Super Bowl Breakfast gives an award in his name to the NFL’s most recent example of servant leadership.
The third section returns to the legacy theme by examining three high profile affordable housing experiences on Indianapolis’ eastside. In addition to the Super Bowl Legacy Project, we investigate how Avondale Meadows is replicating Atlanta’s East Lake model of holistic community development. The Atlanta story began when business mogul Tom Cousins transformed Bobby Jones’ East Lake Golf Club and surrounding neighborhoods from a place of despair to a place for prosperity. The East Lake model has been so successful that investors like Warren Buffett are financing replication in Indianapolis and other cities.
Much like how Indianapolis reinvented the NFL Legacy Project, the city also set a precedent for the Emmy Award-winning “Extreme Makeover” TV program. When suburban Indianapolis homebuilder Paul Estridge was selected to build a home for the season finale in Spring 2009, he accepted the invitation on two conditions: (1) the home would need to fit the character of the neighborhood; and (2) he and his partners would remodel the block rather than just one home. Not only did the TV producers agree to his terms, but they transferred the concept into future shows as well.
The magazine concludes with several articles on sports and culture. Athletic contests in America have inspired us in our youth and given us part of our life’s identity. They have contributed to racial reconciliation and interstate rivalries. Certainly not all of the influence that has come through sports has been positive, but on the whole, it has brought much benefit to society. That is certainly the story in Indianapolis; a city known for its excellence in hosting championships and its legacy of sports as more than a game.
Jay F. Hein is president of the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis-based think tank.
Allison Melangton is president and CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee. She has over 25 years of sports and events management including an Emmy-winning performance as associate producer at four Olympics competitions.
A Lasting Legacy - Indianapolis Style
Q&A: Indianapolis Sports Strategy
Indianapolis - A Championship City
Visionary Community Development Plan Earns Legacy Project
Indianapolis' Rx for Building a Better Community: Volunteers
From L.A to Indy: NFL Charities Leave a Lasting Legacy
Sports & Character
The Jersey Effect
Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance
Tim Tebow's Role Model
The Butler Way
An Indiana Basketball Coach Starts a Movement
From Hardscrabble Indy to the Super Bowl
From Leading the Nation in Foreclosures to Leading Edge Solutions
Faces of Revitalization
Building with a Purpose: Holistic Redevelopment in the Meadows
Extreme Home Makeover: Neighborhood Edition
The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football
Sports on the Silver Screen
Indy's First Sports Strategy