The Starting Five, 2/3/2015

 

A show of hands, please. Is

anybody surprised that Indianapolis wants another Super Bowl?

Of course not.

The trash left over from XLVI had barely been swept

off Georgia St. before planning for the next bid got underway.

Another bid was a given. Super Bowl XLVI was such a

rousing high, it was all but impossible for the city

not to want another toke. The Super Bowl, after all, is America's biggest

party, an annual corporate orgy marrying the expense account-fueled business

class with the professional gladiators whose violent sport has come to so amply

satisfy its overworked fans' need for catharsis.

Indy's desire to host this blast was hatched back in

the 1970s, when a group of ambitious up-and-comers hit upon the idea of

branding their increasingly somnambulant hometown a Sports Capitol.

This was an ingenious stratagem. Sports, it turns out,

is like the weather, albeit with balls of varying shapes and sizes. It's

something that just about everybody is happy to talk about with strangers; no

in-depth knowledge required. Therefore, sports became a theme the city could

rally around — which is to say, a cause capable of getting this

traditionally stingy community to spend some serious cash.

It worked. The city's Downtown was revitalized with a

shopping mall, new and improved hotels, and amenities like the Eiteljorg Museum and an upgraded concert hall. There was

even a spillover effect, as Indy became a draw for conventions from around the

country.

All of this progress, including a successful stint

hosting the Pan Am Games and landing the national headquarters for the NCAA,

made going after the Super Bowl inevitable.

But it was not a sure thing. Since the Super Bowl is,

first and foremost, a party for the 1 percent, there was griping about whether

Indy could provide the kind of sybaritic atmosphere to which the NFL's high

rollers (and their minions in the sports press) are accustomed. And what about

the weather? How you gonna

lounge by the pool with a super model camp follower (or two, or three), if the

outside temp's hovering around the freezing mark?

Well, as we now know, God must be a Hoosier, because

February 2012 was positively bucolic. Pool parties were still a problem, but

hordes of people gathered Downtown to revel in their shirtsleeves. Everyone

agreed: a splendid time was had by all.

So here we go again. This time, the hope is that the

city will score the 2018 game. On the surface, this appears to be a no-brainer.

The 2012 game reportedly had a positive economic impact of about $150 million.

Even better, the game provided the city's leaders with a kind of focus that,

frankly, is not as apparent under normal circumstances. Super Bowl XLVI became

the pretext for long overdue neighborhood revitalization on the Near Eastside

and a bevy of infrastructure improvements Downtown,

including a redesign of Georgia St. that may require another Super Bowl to

finally mean anything.

The Big Game even spawned the best public art project

in recent memory, "46 for XLVI," which put murals all over town.

If it takes a Super Bowl to make civic improvements

like these happen, so be it. That's good news.

The bad news is that, so far, at least, it seems to take

something on the order of a Super Bowl to make this city get off the couch.

Yes, the Super Bowl became an occasion for a lot of positive activity. But it

must also be said that, for at least two years, planning and fund-raising for

the game effectively sucked all the air of the room for other initiatives.

Individual investors are constantly reminded about the

importance of a diversified portfolio. You don't want to put all your eggs in

one basket. The same is true for cities. While the sports theme has worked

wonders here, if Indianapolis is to truly prosper, it needs to be known for

more than touchdowns.

The recent IndyFringe

theater festival, for instance, recently broke its own attendance record

(again), drawing thousands of people to eight venues on and around the Mass Ave

corridor. While these numbers don't compare with Super Bowl crowds, they speak

to how creative arts and cultural events can supercharge an entire neighborhood

for 11 days — at a fraction of the cost in human and financial resources.

The IndyFringe Theatre

building is trying to raise funds to expand its facility along the Cultural

Trail. This project promises to put a significant, multi-purpose performing

arts venue at a hub connecting Mass Ave with other Downtown cultural

opportunities. It will cost a scintilla of what hosting the Super Bowl will entail.

Like chewing gum and walking, this city needs to do

both — and more — at the same time.

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