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Indianapolis: beyond the bricks and mortar: civic leaders say human issues will be the focus of the '90s.

Indianapolis: Beyond the Bricks and Mortar

Civic leaders say human issues will be the focus of the '90s.

Indianapolis has been a story of phenomenal growth in the past couple of decades.

The city has gone from being the sleepy butt of out-of-towners' jokes to a major destination point. Can Indianapolis top its accomplishments in the coming decade? Probably not. But civic leaders have plenty of challenges ahead as they move beyond the bricks and mortar of the 1970s and '80s and down the new roads of the '90s.

"I think the community is in the process of trying to assess what those roads are going to be," says Thomas A. King, president of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. That assessment isn't a simple task, and it is bound to be affected by the wild card of a new mayor next year. Longtime Mayor William H. Hudnut III has announced he won't run again, leaving the biggest political question mark the city has seen in years.

Question marks aside, civic leaders have some ideas about where Indianapolis should focus its attention in the coming years, and many of their ideas are less glamorous and glitzy than the building projects of days gone by. "I think human revitalization must be given a high priority," says Hudnut. "We need to deal with issues concerning human needs." The problems of drugs and gangs must be solved, he says, and affordable housing must be made available to low-and middle-income families. And health-care problems must be addressed, he says, with projects like the Campaign for Healthy Babies that is tackling the city's infant mortality predicament.

"I think education first and foremost will get a lot of the community's attention," says King. "Our schools and students have not kept pace with the world competitively."

"It's not a very bright scenario if your school systems are producing people that cannot be employed," says David Frick, managing partner of the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels and a former deputy mayor. "We've simply got to make our school systems work better and address how to develop the kinds of people that make the community work."

In terms of promoting economic development, reforming education could become as important as good infrastructure, central location and low taxes. Demographers say workers of the future will need more and more skills, and already the labor pool is lagging behind the needs of industry. "We have business and industry that can't hire the people they need to get the job done," King says, adding that while it's a national problem, it would pay to be among the first cities to find a solution. "The city that ends up solving the problem first is going to have a great economic development advantage."

The future won't be without some new bricks-and-mortar projects, however, and some old ones remain to be completed. There are many bricks still to be put into place in the Circle Centre Mall downtown retail project, for example. And more development is anticipated in the downtown White River State Park, with possibilities including an amusement park.

But perhaps the most important bricks-and-mortar emphasis in the city's future is not likely to turn many heads. "We're going to have to address the infrastructure problem: streets, roads, sewers, utilities, airports, parks," Frick advises. "We have not been putting as much money into those kinds of major public investments in the '60s, '70s and '80s as clearly we should have."

"Infrastructure is not as exciting as building a glamorous building," King admits, but he thinks it'll be just as important in the '90s. The chamber has been pushing infrastructure concerns of late, and a large commission is finishing up a report examining the city's infrastructure needs. Sewers are likely to be near the top of the list.

"We have sewers that are 100 years old," Frick says. Many of the older sewers carry both rainwater and raw sewage, and downpours can spill sewage into area waterways. Many parts of the city, meanwhile, aren't served by sanitary sewers at all. The cost of solving just the sewer problems is likely to be mind-boggling.

And Frick says it would be a mistake to ignore the ongoing bricks-and-mortar needs that are logical extensions of past projects. "We were fortunate to adopt in the '70s a strategy that steered the economy away from durable goods manufacturing to a service economy," he says. "One aspect of it was tourism, and we continue to need to put money into it. The convention center is operating at full capacity and needs to be expanded. I would hope we would not turn our backs on that."

Frick adds that the city's image as a prime convention location and amateur sports capital needs continual promotion. Hudnut concurs. "It's one thing to build the Hoosier Dome," he says, "but another to keep the Hoosier Dome busy enough to pay for itself."

Yet while constant promotion is crucial, he says it's not necessary to outdo oneself continually in areas such as sporting events. "Some people ask, |What are you going to do to top the Pan American Games? Are you going to go after the Olympics?' Well, no, you have to be who you are," he says, and while Indianapolis is an ideal spot for small- and medium-sized sporting events, the city may not be ready for something as grand as the Olympics.

It doesn't hurt to dream, of course. "One of my dreams was that when I was mayor we'd have major-league baseball, football, basketball and hockey," Hudnut says. That day may not come for a while, but during his time as mayor the city acquired a National Football League franchise while hanging onto its basketball team. The city has minor-league baseball and hockey, and Hudnut now thinks Indianapolis would be supportive of major-league hockey.

But there's no hurry. With most of the building projects in place, it's a good time for Indianapolis to catch its breath and look ahead. "As I see us going into the 1990s," Hudnut says, "it seems to me that it's going to be a period of consolidation of the gains we made in the 1980s."

PHOTO : Bill Hudnut will finish up 16 years as mayor next year. Time to catch our breath?
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Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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