"Why, exactly, are we spending $700 million?

This past Sunday was a perfect day to be outside and my wife and I wanted to visit our beautiful downtown. We thought we might walk around the Circle, go to the mall and spend some cash. But because there were 60,000 football fans streaming in to see the game at the RCA Dome, we decided instead to take a stroll on the Monon Trail and through Marott Park’s nature preserve.

You simply can’t visit downtown on the day of a Colts game. The traffic is ridiculous. Parking garages jack up their prices to $10 or $15 for the day. And the restaurants are full of people trying to guzzle as much beer as they can before they enter the stadium.

If the Colts bring a lot of money into downtown Indianapolis, they also keep some cash from coming into it.

After our walk, we came home, cooked dinner and watched the second half of the game. The total amount of money we contributed to the local economy that day was $0.00. If we’d gone downtown, we might have ended up spending cash at the mall, a restaurant and a parking garage.

Going to the Colts game? Not an option. Even if tickets were available, which they weren’t, we’d have ended up spending $300 or more just to walk in the door and get a cold beverage. We can’t afford that, and even if we could, it still seems like a waste of money.

Instead, our entertainment that day was free — and we ended up watching most of the football game anyway.

In the afterglow of the Colts’ triumph in the Super Bowl last season, most of us have forgotten or forgiven the fact that all of us are financing a new football stadium that few of us will attend.

The latest estimates for the construction of the Lucas Oil Stadium have it coming in at approximately $700 million, of which $100 million will be provided by the Colts. The rest of it comes from the taxes we all pay at restaurants, hotels and other places in the nine counties of the metro area.

The wisdom of spending three-fourths of a billion dollars on a football stadium that will be used a dozen times a year escapes me. Few of us will ever see the inside of the new stadium except on TV, while the Colts will get richer and richer from higher ticket prices and luxury-box sales.

I’ll admit that the RCA Dome is a terrible venue to watch anything except maybe mass executions. It has the look, feel and friendliness of a Stalin-era Soviet detention camp. It’s all darkness, high winds and concrete, with long, unfriendly stairways that lead to stands full of aluminum bleachers. Nobody in his right mind would spend $200 for two tickets to a game there.

Given the choice of fully funding our Police and Fire departments or keeping the Colts, our mayor and governor chose to keep the Colts. Our 911 dispatchers make a beginning salary of  $9 an hour, but we have plenty of tax money to give to our pro football team.

Our roads are shit, we have crumbling bridges, entire sections of town have been left for dead by the city government but when the Colts came calling, we suddenly had money to spare.

People always talk about all the revenue a football team brings into a city, but I don’t really believe it. The revenue is confined to a very small area, usually the stadium itself and maybe a nearby restaurant. Most of the money goes to the team and to the concession-stand operators. The hotel that hosts the visiting team also makes money.

But that’s about it. In England, football fans travel from city to city to support their team. That doesn’t happen here, partly because the distances are so great between cities that there are no real regional rivalries. There aren’t tickets set aside for supporters of the visiting team, as happens in England.

Other downtown businesses suffer on game days because ordinary people, the ones without tickets, stay away due to the traffic, the public drunkenness and the hassle.

I’m sure the new stadium will be lovely. Maybe I’ll get free tickets to a tractor pull or marching-band contest four or five years after it opens so I’ll be able to see the inside of it.

But would it have been the biggest tragedy in the world if the Colts had been allowed to move to Los Angeles or another city? For most of us, life would have been unchanged. We might have had taxpayer money to give our cops and firefighters a raise.

Too late now. The stadium is almost done. Call it buyer’s remorse, but I think we just may have been swindled once again. 



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