By Chase Howell
In 1975, newly elected mayor Bill Hudnut took office with a dream: Turn "India-NO-place" into "India-SHOW-place."
"Basically, we were trying to address what we saw as a deteriorating downtown, the lack of a national image, and the concern that retail was fleeing the center of the city to the malls and wasn't been replaced," said Ted Boehm, a former Indiana Supreme Court justice and former president of the Indiana Sports Corp.
"Generally, there was concern about the future of he city."
Boehm's view of Indianapolis in 1960 seemed to be shared by the nation: Indianapolis had no image. Downtown was a place of business, of work and government.
Past 6 p.m., the streets mirrored a ghost town. The city lived as a one-event town, with the eyes of the country falling on it for Memorial Day weekend, then forgetting about the Hoosier capitol for another year until the Indianapolis 500 rolled around once more.
When Hudnut took office, though, he developed a plan, one that would put Indianapolis at the forefront of economic and public innovation. And to do so, he would use something the state was already passionate about: Sports.
"In 1976 or 1977, I had a retreat with some of the city leaders, and we were trying to figure out what our niche would be," Hudnut said. "We finally figured we should capitalize on certain assets we had, namely central geographic location, a strong commitment to sports in the state of Indiana, and a strong commitment to health. Out of that idea came the idea of using sports to leverage economic development opportunities."
Boehm became an integral part of that committee, as he and Hudnut set out on a plan that would turn Indianapolis into the Amateur Sports Capital of the world.
"In 1978, Congress passed a law that said there had to be a separate governing body for each Olympic Sport," Boehm said. "That created an opportunity for Indianapolis, we thought, because all of the sudden you had to have 35 or so brand new, nice, pollution-free businesses that had to have their headquarters someplace."
In an effort to get those governing bodies attracted to the Midwestern city, the facilities needed to built for them to run their events. Out of this were born the Indiana University Natatorium at Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Tennis Center, the Major Taylor Velodrome, and the track and field complex on New York Street. Later, the Hoosier Dome, later named the RCA Dome, would rise at the cost of $80 million.
Between 1979 and 1991, Indianapolis spent $122 million on sports projects.
"I think the way we tried to sell it to the public was that it would enhance our business downtown, our economic development, and it would help to make us to be considered by everyone around the country as a competitive, major American city," Hudnut said.
The mayor also had hopes that tax revenue would increase as new businesses filled the downtown area.
"I mean you look at all the figures relative to the increase in the number of hotel rooms, the growth in terms of downtown eateries and restaurants, I think all that, and the growth of the convention business, all that is an offshoot of our commitment to sports," Hudnut said.
In 1982, Indianapolis hosted its first major multisport event, which would foreshadow the 1987 Pan American Games. The National Sports Festival, an event that ran in all non-Olympic years from 1978 to 1985, was created as part of the training process for American athletes preparing for Olympic competition.
Then in 1987, Hudnut and Boehm nabbed one of the largest international multisport events in the western hemisphere, a prize that would ultimately set off the domino effect for sporting events in the future.
The Pan American Games were awarded on a six-year cycle, so the 1987 games were awarded in 1981 to Santiago, Chile. But because of the political uproar in Chile, it became obvious in 1984 that they would not be able to host the games - they were behind in construction of the facilities, among other problems. Quito, Ecuador was named to replace Santiago, but also withdrew in late 1984.
Hudnut and Boehm went to the Pan American Sports Organization's meeting in Mexico City in the fall of 1984 and made a bid to have the games re-awarded to Indianapolis.
"The reason we got that bid is that we already had in place most of the sport facilities necessary for a multisport event, and we had an organization that had actually had experience running one, albeit not an international competition, which puts another layer of complexity on a sporting events."
Instead of the normal six years given to a city for preparation prior to the Pan American Games, Indianapolis had just two and a half years to prepare for the 38 countries and 30 sporting events. The city of Indianapolis created an organizing committee, which included 37,000 volunteers to successfully host the games.
"From then, it was just a series of more successes," Boehm said. "The NCAA Final Four came here. They relocated the NCAA [headquarters] in 1998 to Indianapolis. That just had a domino effect. We had proved we could run major events."
Colts ride west
In the 1980s, NFL football arguably became America's most popular sport. And when building a sports-metropolis, Indianapolis' think-tank knew they must bring America's game to the city if the plan was to be successful.
"Originally, one of our goals was to get an NFL team here," Boehm said. "At that time, an expansion team was the goal, we didn't think about the possibility of relocating an existing franchise."
To draw a team, Indianapolis would need a stadium for a gridiron gang to call home. The Hoosier Dome was constructed, labeled as a "convention center expansion" for financial reasons, with the Lily Endowment able to contribute a third of the costs.
"We tied it into the convention center, which was a very innovative idea at the time," Hudnut said."
Rumors began circling in 1984 that Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay was unhappy with the deteriorating stadium and current relations with the Baltimore city government.
On March 29, 1984, after six weeks of negotiating with Hudnut and other Indianapolis officials, Irsay and the Colts loaded Mayflower moving trucks and made the infamous move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. A celebratory crowd in Indianapolis greeted the arrival of the new team, with 143,000 season ticket requests in just two weeks.
Hudnut addressed the fans gathered in the Hoosier Dome, saying it was "one of the greatest days in the history of this city."
In 1998, the Colts selected Peyton Manning with the first overall pick.
Lucas Oil Stadium replaced the RCA Dome in 2006 at a cost of roughly $750 million to the city of Indianapolis. The stadium is a multi-purpose facility that seats more than 67,000 fans.
Indiana Sports Corp
Since 1979, Indianapolis has hosted more than 400 national and international sporting events, including 17 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and 55 NCAA championships.
To help create community support and ease the execution of the events, Boehm became the chairman and one of the founders of the Indiana Sports Corporation, the first commission of its kind in the United States. Today there are more than 500 sports commissions, modeled after the 1979 original. The ISC is a private non-profit organization.
"Really, what we do is we go out and bid on and manage what I call a lot of the 'one-time events' that come to town, such as the NCAA Men's and Women's Final Four, the Super Bowl, we had a large hand in the bid for that, as well as the execution," John Dedman, the vice president of communications for the Indiana Sports Corp.
In 1979, Boehm's Indiana Sports Corp differed from the structure of today's sports commission, but valued the same volunteer spirit incorporated by the company.
"At that time, it was much more of a volunteer organization than it is today," Boehm said. "Today, the Sports Corp has a staff about 30 people, and at that time it had a staff of about two. It was all done by volunteers."
Overall, the mission of the sports commission is to "promote Indiana as an attractive place to live, work and visit through sports and sporting events that bring national and international attention to the area," according to the group's website.
The Indiana Sport Corp's greatest undertaking appeared in 2012, as the city hosted Super Bowl XLVI after the sports commission won the bid in 2008, beating Houston and Phoenix for the chance to host the most popular game in America.
"That's what the Sports Corporation does, is have this huge network of volunteers who enjoy working on these events," Boehm said.
"They volunteer to drive the dignitaries around," he said. "Other people greet them at the airport and tell them where to go, give them the information about what to do, and all that sort of thing. It takes a lot of people to do something like that, and we proved over and over again that we can do it, and that's why we got such great reviews about the Super Bowl. The NFL and virtually all the sportswriters said it was the best Super Bowl they'd ever been to."
The Indiana Sports Corp is currently bidding on future events for the city.
"In addition to a potential 2018 Super Bowl bid, the committee is looking at and currently bidding on the 2016 Olympic Swimming Trials, and we would propose we do those at Lucas Oil Stadium in kind of a new format that USA Swimming has never done before," Dedman said.
"It's just, Indianapolis is great. Indiana as a whole is so great, because we had the creativity and the desire to try new things, to do them bigger and better," he said.
Why it's worked
There are many turns that could have led Indianapolis down a path of failure. The Pacers could have left for the West Coast. It could have rained all through the Pan American Games. The Colts could have selected Ryan Leaf in 1998. Hudnut could have focused more money on human services rather than sports venue development. All would have altered the path Indianapolis' path to an unknowable direction. But for many, the things that made it all possible are obvious.
"I think it's two things," Boehm said. "First, the foot traffic, which was no accident, it was all by design that all these venues were put in the downtown area so you could have the synergy between the convention center and the hotels and the sports facilities. Having them all walkable makes it a much more attractive place for people to attend, have a good time, go to parties."
Unlike many cities, Indianapolis' sports venues are all concentrated in the downtown area, and do not require a bus ride, interstate trip, or traffic jam to get to the stadium.
"The other part, we've proven we got good hospitality, good facilities for meeting people at the airport, getting them to towns for their meetings," Boehm said. "Every one of these major events has their meetings, the organizations that run them all have their annual gatherings, which are lots of people. So there's a convention, if you will, of people who host these events."
A critical hurdle for Indianapolis is the climate, as the city became just the fourth cold-weather city to host the Super Bowl in 2012. Cities like Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa have the luxury of warm temperatures in February, drawing in visitors trying to escape their wintery homes.
"Obviously, for certain times of the year the weather here is not as desirable here as it might be in Miami, for example," Dedman said.
"That's what we did in the 2012 Super Bowl bid, we embraced the fact that we are going to do a Super Bowl Village, and it's not going to be covered, and it's not going to be heated, but people will come, and they'll wear a scarf and jackets and gloves and they'll enjoy the music and the games and the food that we have set up for them, because that's how things are here," he said.
Most importantly, the Indianapolis has created an atmosphere downtown that can entertain without natural landscapes.
"At the same time we don't have the mountains, and the beaches that other places have, so we have to convince a lot of these groups that outside of the days of competition, your fans, your student-athletes, your VIPs, are going to have things to do here that are fun," Dedman said.
"We have everything from golf courses to museums, to a shopping mall that you can walk to from most of our downtown hotels. You're always trying to correct those misnomers out there, in terms of those kind of preconceived notions and try to sell Indianapolis."
As more cities construct sporting venues, the competition for major sporting events is on the rise, as more sports commissions chase after the big catches.
When I said we were the first sports commission in 1979, in many ways we created an industry," Dedman said.
"Now we have 500 sports commissions, and we don't compete with all those because it goes by market size a lot, but when you look at those markets that are in the top 20, 25 in terms of population, those that have either large college or professional teams and the venues for those, that's our competition," he said.
Naptown to Sports City, USA
When Hudnut took office in 1976, India-NO-place had a dying economy and a downtown that was at risk of becoming a donut city, meaning the development happened completely in the suburbs in surrounding areas.
Through innovation and the volunteer spirit of Indiana, as well as the passion and commitment to sports that run through the veins of Hoosiers, Hudnut's vision turned Indianapolis into a city set on a national stage.
Hudnut is now a professor at Georgetown University, but looks back on his former mayoral term with pride, having developed Indianapolis through one of the most human ways possible: the spirit of competition.
"That's another thing that really separates us," Dedman said. "We're starting to really see the fruits of those decisions that were made years ago and that experience that's been built for 30 years."
Chase Howell is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.