The city gets a stadium

Is anyone surprised by this? The news on Sunday that the city and the Colts had reached agreement on a deal keeping the football team here for another 30 years has to be rated one of the bigger anti-climaxes of recent memory. It's been clear since before the end of Mayor Bart Peterson's first term that he was determined to make a deal happen. The only question was how. Artist's rendering of the Colts' new home.

Now, if you're reading this in order to hear a familiar litany of curses about misplaced priorities and all the things the money this massive building project should be dedicated to instead, hold on. First, let us pause for a moment and reflect on what the leaders of our city are capable of when they put their minds to accomplishing something they consider really important.

No, I'm not talking about fixing our nationally known combined sewer overflow problem.

Nor am I referring to the reform of our public education system.

You can go somewhere else if you want to hear about how we should be dealing with the city's increasing need for affordable housing.

I do promise, however, to mention a little something about what we might look forward to regarding public transportation.

Until that time, let us warm ourselves in the reflected glow of our city's can-do spirit. Putting this deal together wasn't easy and, let's face it, Indianapolis probably needed this more than any of us are willing to admit. After all, this is a town where hardly anything but pills gets made anymore. Last week, we learned that another of our ever-dwindling number of Fortune 500 companies, the Lilly knock-off Guidant Corporation, is definitely on its way out after being bought by Johnson and Johnson. Action had to be taken.

Many people still don't realize it, but the convention business is one of this city's biggest industries. Downtown would be dead without it. But the health of that business has been precarious lately as some major customers have threatened to pull out in favor of cities with larger facilities. For this reason, the Colts deal really should be called the convention center deal. Once Mayor Peterson made building a new stadium part of a project intended to expand the convention center, you knew it was a matter of time before light bulbs would be popping and everybody would be shaking hands and smiling. When the NCAA joined in, offering their own 30-year package in exchange for - guess what?! - a new stadium, inevitability set in.

The only question was how such a massive undertaking - $800 million to be inexact, you can probably count on this price tag going up before Peyton throws his first TD in the new retractable dome - would be paid for.

Well, in a state where the budget deficit is roughly the same as the cost of this chunk of downtown redevelopment, there is only one, reliable answer: gambling. Sure enough, Mayor Peterson has bit the chip, as it were, and come out for what could amount to the creation of a casino in Indianapolis. The mayor, who once campaigned against video games, wants us to be able to play pull-tab machines, which are akin to slot machines. He figures the revenues from gambling can pay for at least half the project - and save him having to ask for increases in property or income taxes.

This idea, of course, will have to be approved by members of the state Legislature who will, in turn, look to new Gov. Mitch Daniels for some kind of blessing. Daniels, who is facing his own fiscal challenges (that deficit again!), has been tut-tutting about gambling in Indiana. He says he's concerned about the social costs. But with little short-term hope for his state's economy in sight, those revenues must be tempting. Seen in this light, Peterson's proposal looks like a stalking horse for what could become a statewide life-preserver. When the only other option is increased taxes, gambling seems like economic strategy. Before you know it, we'll be singing "Viva Indiana" instead of Las Vegas and those gambling addicts ... they can take pride in doing their bit for the state's recovery.

If all this sounds like so much bread and circuses to you, it is. But remember, this is a country where we reelect a president who tells us to fight terror by going shopping. Given this sense of urgency, it's little wonder that when our city's leaders look into the future they see what they are used to watching on TV: people playing games, traveling and acting as if they are enjoying themselves.

Which is not to say that our leaders don't recognize the value of some of the less glamorous aspects of city life. Public transportation has found its way into the stadium redevelopment plan in the form of an IndyGo Transit Center. This center, according to the Mayor's Office, will be in the "immediate vicinity" of the stadium and convention center. It "would provide a centralized location to catch the bus and make a transfer. It also would provide passenger amenities such as weather protection, route and schedule information."

In other words, it will be a bus stop. Once the stadium is built, maybe we'll be able to buy a few buses to go with it.

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