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'Legacy Project' Swings Indy's Super Bowl Bid

Indianapolis lost its Super Bowl bid to Dallas in the spring of 2007 by a gut-wrenching two votes. That winter, the city’s bid committee launched an even more ambitious campaign to host the Super Bowl in 2012.  As part of its bid, the city needed to come up with a public service “legacy project” that would be funded with $1 million from the National Football League and matching local grants. A compelling project could be a selling point with NFL owners and Mark Miles, who was leading the bid effort in Indianapolis, was scouring the city for ideas.

Bill Taft, executive director of LISC Indianapolis, heard about the call for legacy projects, and it sparked an idea. One Friday afternoon in January, Taft spelled it out for Miles in an e-mail. The very next morning, Miles called him at home. Could he meet for coffee in half an hour?

Quality-of-life plans

LISC had just finished leading hundreds of residents from six low-income regions of the city to create unique quality-of-life plans for their own neighborhoods. The Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI), as it was called, helped generate ideas for improving all areas of community life, from education to housing to commerce. Taft tucked two of these plans under his arm and went to meet Miles at a downtown Starbucks.

The eventual outcome of the meeting is testament to the power of good planning to attract unexpected opportunity. A plan for the struggling Near East Side – a neighborhood that has suffered some of the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates – so far has drawn not only $2 million in legacy funds but a staggering $70 million in additional investment, much of that leveraged under the spotlight of the legacy project. 

“It’s crazy to think of $70 million coming in to support the work in the neighborhood,” said James Taylor, chief executive officer of the John H. Boner Center, which led the quality-of-life planning on the Near East Side. “We always imagined we would be rolling the boulder slowly uphill by ourselves, but now we have people to help us.”

Miles was intrigued enough by his first look at the plans to invite Taft to walk through them with the rest of the bid committee, this time wielding a projector and Google Earth. But what finally sold them on the plan for the Near East Side, said Miles, was a trip to the neighborhood.

All the neighborhoods that LISC had selected to create quality-of-life plans had strong neighborhood organizations able to draw hundreds of residents into the planning process. On the Near East Side, a total 100 non-profits and businesses and 600 residents turned out for a series of small group discussions held around tables in the high school gymnasium.

Tough times on Near East Side

Once a thriving working class community, the Near East Side was devastated by the closing of two manufacturing plants in the 1980s and with it the loss of thousands of well-paying jobs. Ancillary businesses followed – two of three large shopping centers shut. Homes were abandoned. Crime rose, as did high school dropout rates. Still, the mixed race neighborhood – about 60 percent white, 25 percent African American and 15 percent Latino – retained its activist can-do spirit, said neighborhood resident Marie Hanlon. Neighborhood groups, however, had for many years lacked the resources to work together on any large-scale neighborhood improvement.

That changed with GINI. “The remarkable degree of neighborhood resident participation” in creating the plan, as well as the plan itself and the confidence that the bid committee developed in the local leadership, won them over, Miles said. When he showed up at a GINI task force meeting to introduce himself, 125 residents turned out to greet him.

The committee also viewed the Near East Side plan as a model for neighborhood revitalization across Indianapolis, added Miles, who is CEO of a corporate partnership promoting regional economic growth. “We thought if we could do this and be successful using the deadline and excitement of the Super Bowl than perhaps it [could become] a template post-Super Bowl for people to rally around in other neighborhoods.”

Indy wins bid

On May 20, 2008, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped out of the owners meeting to announce that Indianapolis had won its bid. He praised the city’s enthusiasm – and highlighted its Near East Side legacy project.

The city was jubilant, but for winners of the legacy project, the mood went beyond elation, said Hanlon. “It gave you butterflies to think of what that could mean.”

This Near East Side sports field will get a facelift prior to Super Bowl 2012.

It meant first, that $2 million in legacy funds would go towards a building a much-needed youth recreation center on the campus that housed the neighborhood’s elementary, middle and high school. But that investment was only the beginning. Taft had proposed the Near East Side neighborhood to the bid committee in part because it contained an asset the city needed as part of its proposal – a site suitable for use as a training facility for one of the Super Bowl teams. The Arsenal High School football stadium just off 10th Street was close enough to downtown to make it a feasible location, the committee agreed.

The stadium would be upgraded with professional-quality turf, a new track and renovated stands. Alongside it, the city’s host committee would build a 30,000-square-foot facility with weight rooms, medical services and other amenities for use by one of the Super Bowl teams. After the event, the facility would be converted into the community’s first fitness and recreation center for a total investment of $10 million to $15 million. The legacy youth center would be part of the same complex and offer programs run by the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club or other organizations.

But that wasn’t all. The city’s Super Bowl host committee agreed to help the neighborhood raise funds to repair, rehab or build 250-300 homes in St. Clair Place, a blighted 32-square-block area in the heart of the Near East Side. All homes would meet high standards for energy efficiency, saving money for low-income home owners. The city would replace curbs and sidewalks and build “green alleys” to drain rain water.

East 10th Street benefits

Additional funds would also go to redevelop a two-mile stretch of the neighborhood’s downtrodden commercial district on East 10th Street by upgrading facades and recruiting businesses to fill abandoned buildings. The city would add parking spaces and bike lanes and more cross walks to encourage pedestrian traffic. It also agreed to speed-up the development of a bike trail to intersect East 10th Street.

Under the Super Bowl’s spotlight, further donations are flowing in. An interior design firm volunteered to create floor plans for homes in St. Clair Place and businesses on East 10th Street. A law firm offered to handle all legal matters related to the legacy project pro bono. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful promised to plant 2012 trees on the Near East Side by 2012.

Still, the sudden interest in the neighborhood’s plan made some residents uneasy. “Obviously, there’s the fear that you’ll have outside groups coming in and redoing your plan or doing it for you,” said Taylor.

Their concern was quickly dispelled when civic leaders on the committee to oversee the legacy project agreed to co-chair each subcommittee with a neighborhood resident. Miles and Hanlon now co-chair the executive committee.

The partnership has benefited both sides, Hanlon observed, with the movers and shakers in town “getting priceless input as to how effective their programs are,” and neighborhood residents profiting from the outside expertise.

The momentum for change within the community and the friendships that have sprung up among civic leaders and residents will outlast the legacy project, Hanlon insisted. “It won’t all wash away after 2012. We’re beyond that. I look at [Super Bowl] 2012 as an exciting event. And that’s what it is – an event.”

Keywords: funders, Indianapolis, quality-of-life planning, sports

Posted in Indianapolis

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