Did Peyton Manning really lead to the revival of Indianapolis?

Lost within the Vice President’s protest of a protest at the Indianapolis Colts game was the retiring of Peyton Manning’s number. A great NFL quarterback – but also the savior of Indianapolis?

So now Indianapolis, with its compact downtown packed with hotels and restaurants, has had a Super Bowl—and the city performed so well the NFL might go back for a second one day. Indianapolis has won a Super Bowl. Indianapolis has had Final Fours, men’s and women’s. Indianapolis is even hip, with Manhattan-caliber restaurants like Bluebeard. On Saturday, with two big conventions and a Colts game in town, downtown was bursting at the seams; there was a line at St. Elmo’s. And a crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 people came to the city to watch the unveiling of the half-ton bronze statue for the man who, more than anyone, made it possible. GM Bill Polian always maintained Lucas Oil Stadium got built on the back of Peyton Manning, and the former two-term governor, Mitch Daniels, echoed that in remarks to the adoring crowd. Locals were giving Daniels a hard time about the cost of Lucas Oil Stadium early this century, and he said: “Just build it. Peyton will fill it.” Fitting, too, that the shiny upscale JW Marriott—representing boom times in the first 17 years of this century for $320-a-night rooms in ritzy downtown hotels—could be seen through the legs of the bronze number 18.

“He didn’t do it alone,” Letterman said. “But by God, look around us. He changed the skyline. This used to be a small town. This man has changed the skyline.”

Never wonder again about the effect of a winning quarterback on a city, a state, a region. It’s why every team that doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan spends so much time and money looking for one. As Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told me this summer: “There’s nothing that compares to it. You need a great starting pitcher, a great closer in baseball. You need a great point guard in basketball. But there’s not one position that comes anywhere close in sports, I don’t think, to quarterback in football. If you ask any one of our football people, they’d all say getting the quarterback right is number one. I can tell you this: It’s on the top of our list daily. Once you get that, the game’s much easier.”…

Manning got emotional talking to the crowd. The crowd—at least via signs from as far west as Hawaii, as far east as New Jersey—ladled love on him for an hour. “WE LOVE YOU MAN,” punctuated the affair three times from the crowd. A friend, Angie Six, was in the middle of it and texted me afterward: “Being a part of the crowd was a truly moving experience, enough to make this fan and those around me a little misty-eyed. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium, I saw a diverse crowd of Colts fans: young, old, black, white, Hispanic, men, women. We are all Hoosiers, proud to claim Peyton as our own. When Peyton left to play for Denver, we watched heartbroken from afar. We never had a chance to say thank you. Today, we were able to express our gratitude in person, and the crowd was giddy. The woman behind me said, ‘What a great day to be a Colts fan.’”

I do not buy these two common arguments made by sportswriters and others:

(1) stars and championships can change the course of major cities and regions and

(2) sports truly bring together communities in ways that other spheres or events cannot.

Development and community-building does not work this way. Cleveland finally winning a championship does not change everything. The Bulls winning six championships in the 1990s followed by the White Sox, Blackhawks, and the Cubs (!) winning in the following decades has not solved the problems facing many poor neighborhoods. J.J. Watt raising a lot of money in response to hurricane relief in Houston is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to clean up and more importantly help Houston and other regions develop ways to be resilient in the face of disasters. Peyton Manning becoming the most recognized face of Indianapolis – even though he is from Mississippi and the team dumped him when they thought they could do better without him – is a nice story but there are plenty of players who do similar things (just not at one of the most visible positions in sports).

This does not mean that winning or doing good things in the community are bad. Indeed, following sports is worthwhile in the long run when your team finally wins and team and player efforts to help communities are much appreciated. But, cities and regions are much bigger than this. Cities and regions can recover from major teams moving away. (Does anyone make a serious case that Seattle lost big when losing the Supersonics or that San Diego is going to decline with the Chargers now in Los Angeles?) People will find other ways to spend their money and local officials will continue to use whatever tools they can – including sports – to promote economic development and boost the status of their community.

I would enjoy seeing academic research on the influence of players and teams on local communities. Even in places where the teams are intimately wedded to the common insider perceptions of what a place is – think the Pittsburgh Steelers – what influence does a team really have? Perhaps Indianapolis is a unique case of sports contributing to economic development because Manning’s stardom came alongside a thriving amateur sports scene (from high school basketball to the NCAA). But, can we also imagine an alternate universe Indianapolis where the city changes over several decades with no influence of major sports?

Ikea as suburban economic engine and sign of suburban change

The wealthy Indianapolis suburb of Fishers now has an Ikea and the community hopes it spurs economic growth:

When Ikea opens Wednesday, it could alter the character of this northern suburb city from a drowsy residential nook into a dynamic regional shopping mecca. The giant Swedish furniture retailer’s gravitational pull has already attracted other businesses nearby and prompted major highway and road work.

Which is why city officials expect the residents to get along just fine with the new kid. For one thing, Ikea has cache, even if the store is three times the size of a Walmart. For another, Ikea’s guests are quiet and well-behaved. And most importantly, Ikea will contribute millions of dollars to the local economy in sales taxes and in-town spending at other stores…

But for Mayor Scott Fadness and the City Council, the wave of development is the cornerstone to expanding and defining the city. It follows a similarly aggressive flurry of construction just blocks away, across I-69 in downtown proper, now called the Nickel Plate District. Over a five-year period, the city encouraged residential and business development to get people living and working downtown. Two high-rent apartment buildings with first-floor restaurants and shops were built next to City Hall and several high-tech firms set up shop nearby, earning Fishers the reputation as a technology hub…

Ikea asserts, and experts agree, that it’s 44 U.S. stores draw customers from as far as 200 miles, and they spend money at more places than just the furniture store.

It is not enough for many places to be well-regarded bedroom suburbs: many of these communities now want more.

  1. An expanded tax base. Bringing in businesses means more money for local services and a reduced tax burden for residents.
  2. Excitement about the community. Many postwar suburbs have experienced decades of development. Newer suburbs or exciting urban neighborhoods offer new options. How will a high-status suburb stay on the radar screens of people within the region and elsewhere? New development always brings excitement.
  3. A new vision for the future. What will the suburb look like in the 21st century? Can they develop new plans and visions? The postwar suburban era is over; what will these suburbs look like by 2050?
  4. Number two and number three above are linked to attracting young professionals. These are high-status people who can contribute to the tax base, provide employees that high-end employers want, and bring energy to the community.

The moves in Fishers echo those of many other suburbs across the United States. Some, like Fishers, are well-positioned with their wealth and location to take advantage of possible opportunities. Others will pursue some of these options but ultimately lack the ability and/or resources to carry them out.

Indianapolis’ Univgov only worked because schools were not included

The Univgov created in Indianapolis in 1970 may have only gone forward because it didn’t unite all local governments; it intentionally left out school districts.

The celebrated unified government, or “Unigov,” law brought together about a dozen communities in Marion County into a single large city in 1970. The idea was to put a bigger, more powerful Indianapolis onto the national map, simplify city services, and grow the city’s tax base. Indianapolis was not the only city in the country to merge with its surrounding county at that time—but it was the only one to explicitly leave schools out of the deal…

The judge who ordered the busing, Samuel Dillin, stated bluntly that a merged city that left 11 separate school districts was racially motivated. At the time, a majority of the region’s African American and minority students lived in the city center while the surrounding school districts primarily enrolled white students.

“Unigov was not a perfect consolidation,” then-Mayor Richard Lugar said. He went on to be one of Indiana’s most legendary political leaders as a six-term U.S. Senator. “A good number of people really wanted to keep at least their particular school segregated.” Lugar said he knew the 162-page Unigov bill would die in the Indiana General Assembly if schools were included. But he still thinks the merger was worth it, despite the effects it has had on schools…

Unigov’s legacy for Indiana education is mixed at best, but neither Lugar nor Cierzniak think a future Marion County school district merger—one way some scholars say segregation can be reduced—is likely. Township districts have grown considerably, and the state legislature has heard district consolidation plans over the years that have repeatedly failed.

Uniting metropolitan governments is a difficult task, primarily for reasons like this: wealthier, whiter, often suburban residents do not often want to share their resources – particularly schools – with those who are not as wealthy and white. When the middle-class and above look for places to live, they often prioritize the school district and if it has a record of higher performance, will fight to keep others out. These wealthier residents want their tax dollars, especially those based on their better housing values, to go to their children and community. And the white-black divide is often the most difficult line to cross in such situations.

As another recent example, see the case of when Ferguson, Missouri students were given the chance to leave their unaccredited school district. Some parents in the new school district do not react well.

Why cities bid to host the Super Bowl (hint: it’s not just about the immediate money)

A story about how cities win the opportunity to host the Super Bowl has this explanation of why cities bid in the first place:

The NFL looks at the Super Bowl location as a kind of carrot to reward cities that are expanding the NFL’s sphere of influence, either by fielding a winning team, building a fancy stadium, or, ideally, both. Cities bid for the honor of hosting the Super Bowl because it brings in tourist dollars and prestige.

How much money is the subject of some debate. The NFL maintains that the Super Bowl brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies. An article from the Indianapolis Business Journal says, “The NFL estimates Indianapolis will draw 100,000 to 150,000 visitors who could spend $200 million over a 10-day span.”

However, some find that number to be misleading. An academic paper from Holy Cross titled “Economics of the Super Bowl” argues that these numbers are “‘padded’ at least as well as the players on the field.”

Philip Porter, an economics professor from the University of South Florida, attempted to figure out the Super Bowl’s financial impact in 2007. The Sun-Sentinel reports that “he said he examined data from the Florida Department of Revenue showing expenditures in Miami-Dade County were $3.318 billion in February 2006 and $3.308 billion in February 2007.”

Regardless, there are some tangible benefits for citizens of Super Bowl cities. In the case of Indianapolis, “the city pledged to build a practice facility downtown that will be left in place for local residents to use.” There is also an increase in jobs (even if the jobs are temporary).

It sounds like the NFL pushes the economic argument: host the Super Bowl fans plus teams plus the media plus celebrities will spend lots of money. In addition, the temporary jobs that are created helps the Super Bowl bring money into a city. However, I wonder if this falls into a similar territory of the sports team who argues the city or state should spend taxpayer dollars to help build a new stadium or the team will leave. Studies show that these arguments are bogus: taxpayers end up spending money that owners profit because few cities can “afford” to let the big team go. Also, the article also suggests that a new stadium had to be built for the Colts for this bid to have any success and this cost money (some from the Colts, the rest from a food and drink tax). It sounds like it might be fairly easy to look at the economic data across Super Bowls.

My guess is that prestige, status, and the attention the Super Bowl draws and the money that this can lead to down the road is more important here. This helps put Indianapolis on the map and hopefully is not just a one-time event but rather helps lead to other big conventions and events (the city is already known as a sport town since it is home to the NCAA, hosts the Indianapolis 500) as well as attracting businesses who might otherwise not have a reason to visit the city. The immediate economic benefits may be nice to tout but this event gives a lot of air time and from what I have heard, media people have been impressed by the way Indy has rolled out the red carpet and also made all of the necessary locations within walking distance of each other. Wouldn’t it be great to be the mayor or other elected official who can claim that you helped bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis? Wouldn’t it be even better to say that hosting the big game helped bring in more long-term revenue into the city? The real pull here is not the practice facility that is left behind but rather the fact that Indy is capable of hosting the biggest game in the United States.

The struggles of New Urbanist communities outside Indianapolis

Several New Urbanist communities outside of Indianapolis are struggling to sell homes and fill commercial space:

The Village of WestClay was supposed to be a different kind of neighborhood — one that turned back the clock and led suburban living toward a more community-centered, urban lifestyle.

Along with Saxony in Fishers and Avon’s Village of Turner Trace, this model of “New Urbanism” offered a home where you could leave the family car parked in the garage, trading your big backyard and high fence for a front porch and neighbors you really got to know…

It’s the stores and restaurants, though, that have lagged. About 65 percent of 275,000 square feet of planned commercial space has opened. Clustered together like a traditional downtown, the businesses at the center of the neighborhood have struggled the most…

Nationally, retail has proven to be the hardest part to build, said John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The Chicago-based think tank advocates New Urbanism as the future of development.

I remember reading about how this also seemed to happen in Celebration, Florida (see Celebration, U.S.A.). Many businesses are unwilling to build or open a location without an already-existing residential base that provides a steady source of customers. But if you are trying to put the New Urbanist pieces together, provide a community with residences within an easy walk of stores and other amenities, you need some businesses to be there from the beginning to help sell the homes. Couldn’t these new developments offer special low prices to businesses for a few years as an incentive?

The suggestion at the end of the article is that these problems could be avoided if New Urbanist principles were applied in cities or denser areas, not in newly-constructed New Urbanist developments plopped in suburbia. We’ll have to see what happens in the lean economic times of today and perhaps more prosperous years in the future.