40 ideas: Let’s invest in neighborhoods the way we do in sports

In the early 1980s, the city of Indianapolis started to invest tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars each year in pursuit of the “sports initiative,” accompanied for 40 years by public controversy. Successful marketing of several major building complexes has brought pride and national attention to Indy, myriad entertainment venues to the Central Business District, and substantial financial rewards to those involved.

What would happen if an initiative on the same scale were duplicated, over the next 40 years, on developing neighborhoods and nodes throughout Marion County? Quality schools, diverse jobs, thoughtful planning and leveraging natural assets could finally be deployed to highlight unique cultural districts—treasures inexcusably overlooked to date.

Currently, support for the Pacers and the Colts costs taxpayers about $50 million apiece per year. Rather than advocating removal of those subsidies, I believe real promise lies in repeating that investment in a much more tangible client—actual residents. Further, tax income from strong neighborhoods would be far more reliable than from tourism (vulnerable to many factors, including the current pandemic).

Tax-increment-financing districts were created just for this purpose. COVID-related reductions are expected for 2020, but otherwise, the latest data available from the state (2018) indicates the current Marion County TIFs are netting $6 million per year.

Consider how Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Paris have multiple city centers. Indianapolis could expand the “Circle City” identity by complementing Monument Circle with additional urban halos marking important intersections and landmarks. After just a few development cycles, the assessed value of those areas would increase significantly.

But more important, city attention paid to local areas and residents would at last match their rightful pride and dignity. This ultimately provides resources for education, fire protection, health care, road maintenance, parks and trail development, and public safety that is deeply connected to the community served.

Promoting sports does help. It makes people who can afford to attend sporting events feel really good about themselves and part of a larger team. But there’s another million people in the city that need a similar effort.•

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