Funding plans compete A large mural is painted on the wall above the speaker’s podium in the Indiana House chamber. At the center of this composition is a kind of Lady Bountiful figure, a somewhat anorexic woman standing in front of a sycamore tree and beside a scrawny horse. A soldier, looking like a character from some Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, scrambles to hold the lady’s purple train. Mayor Bart Peterson To one side, the prow of a freighter, The Spirit of Indiana, pokes out from the side of a building that bears a resemblance to the new state office complex. Meanwhile, a shirtless Neanderthal-type is dragging a bull by the nose.
On the other side of Lady Bountiful, a woman in a lilac gown seems to be leading a charge with a torch and a harp. There is a horn of plenty by her side, but the woman seems unaware that the horn is spilling money and jewels into the flames of what appears to be a blazing cauldron.
This, along with a mob of state legislators, is the scene that greeted Mayor Bart Peterson last Thursday when he went to the Statehouse to argue for his proposal to expand his city’s convention center and keep the Colts and the NCAA in town for another 30 years.
Although Peterson is well-known for his support of public art, it is impossible to say how he might have interpreted whatever message is encoded in that Statehouse mural. He might have been forgiven for thinking the elected representatives who regularly meet beneath it have fallen under its influence.
For Peterson, the future of Indianapolis hinges on whether or not the city will be able to go ahead with his $800 million plan to build a new athletic stadium and, in the process, double the size of the convention center. The city, he told legislators, has climbed up from mediocrity but, “It’s not impossible for us to slide back into mediocrity again.”
But the extent to which the state’s legislators care about the capital city’s fate may be debatable.
Peterson knows the city and the state are in a financial bind. So he’d rather not pay for these projects with tax dollars. Nor does he believe public officials would support such a plan. That’s why he originally proposed expanding gaming in Indianapolis, adding 2,500 slot-style machines to a downtown facility, in order to generate the necessary revenue.
Absent a formula involving gaming monies, the chances of Peterson’s being able to go ahead with his building projects in a timely fashion appear dim. This means the Colts could be gone as early as the end of 2006, the NCAA could back away from its agreement to hold Final 4 tournaments here every five years and top clients will continue to withdraw from a convention center they say is too small.
But the Republican speaker, Brian Bosma, and Gov. Mitch Daniels, as well as a lot of other legislators, don’t want to besmirch what they call the city’s “family friendly” image with something like a casino. So three other proposals have been introduced. Two of these would place the machines at the state’s two racetracks in Anderson and Shelbyville. A third would put them at an undetermined site in Marion County.
All of these proposals are freighted with differing degrees of political baggage. State Rep. Robert Alderman, R-Fort Wayne, chair of the committee which will determine whether the Indianapolis projects can go ahead with gaming monies, groused that “political intrigue” was sullying the process. He should know about politics: Alderman has managed to hold his House seat since 1976, a fact he jokingly alluded to several times during the hearing. “I will drop the issue in the trash can before I let it become political,” he warned. “I tell you that right now.”
Whether Alderman had that mural, with its image of riches being carelessly burned, in mind when he said this was not clear.