Hoosiers growing up in the ’60s and ’70s liked to joke that Indiana ranked 50th in the United States in tourism, even though the statistic was more rural myth than real data.
Today, Indiana is in the middle of the pack at 27th among the states in drawing domestic travel dollars, with Americans spending more than $8.3 billion there on day trips and overnight visits in 2009, according to the most recent Statistical Abstract of the United States. (The smallest states, Rhode Island and Delaware, are at the bottom of the list, taking in just $1.6 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, from U.S. travelers.)
The biggest reason for Indiana’s growth as a tourist destination is the state capital, Indianapolis, host of this weekend’s Super Bowl XLVI between the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
Once derided as a “cow town” visited only by thousands of auto-racing fans who made a Memorial Day pilgrimage to the “Brickyard” for the Indianapolis 500, “Indy” is now the nation’s 12th-largest metropolitan area, with more than 820,000 residents in 2010.
Much of the city’s flowering over the past three decades has been nourished by the NFL. In 1980, city fathers led by then-Mayor William Hudnut began studying the feasibility of building an indoor stadium in hopes of luring a professional football team. The Hoosier Dome was completed in 1982, and two years later, owner Robert Irsay infamously moved his Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the dark of night.
What followed was a building boom that is the envy of many a metropolitan area. Indianapolis Downtown, the city’s development arm, reports that more than $9 billion was invested in 485 downtown projects between 1990 and 2011, an average of more than $408 million a year.
The centerpiece for the expansion has been the White River that winds through downtown Indianapolis. Today it is lined with gardens, parks, and walkways that take visitors to a world-class zoo, a museum of Western art, the NCAA Hall of Champions, an IMAX theater, the Indiana State Museum, and an outdoor concert arena.
What is billed as the world’s largest children’s museum is north of downtown, with “five floors of interactive exhibits covering science, culture, history, and the arts.” To the southeast is the Fountain Square Cultural District, flourishing with hotels, restaurants, shops, and a museum of contemporary art.
Even in the midst of the recession and slow recovery, Indy has continued to swell. JW Marriott opened a 1,005-room hotel last year, the NCAA has begun a 150,000-square-foot expansion of its headquarters that should be done this year, and Rolls-Royce has announced plans to move 2,500 employees to downtown by mid-2012. The city is already home to headquarters for three Fortune 500 companies: WellPoint, Eli Lilly, and Simon Property Group.
The NFL’s decision in 2008 to award this year’s Super Bowl to Indianapolis brought another wave of development.
City officials teamed with the NFL on a “legacy project” for an eastside neighborhood that had been deteriorating for years but will be a major entryway to downtown for visitors from around the world this week. A new facility was built on the Arsenal Tech High School campus, which has been turned into a NFL Youth Education Town, complete with sports and fitness activities for kids. A major apartment complex was refurbished for $4.2 million, and there has been a domino effect on businesses throughout the area.
But the focal point this week is the $719 million Lucas Oil Stadium that opened in 2008—the real reason Indianapolis is hosting Super Bowl XLVI. The stadium with a retractable roof was designed with a classic architecture similar to the nearby Hinkle Fieldhouse, the old basketball arena where tiny Milan High School won the state championship in 1954 in a game made famous by the movie Hoosiers.
Indiana taxpayers paid 87 percent of the costs for the 67,500-seat football stadium; those who supported the expenditures were confident at least some of their investment would be returned if the NFL chose the site for the world’s biggest sporting event. And there was every reason to believe it would: The NFL has a recent history of awarding Super Bowls to cities with new, taxpayer-funded stadiums, as it did for Dallas last year.
Ironically, the Capital Improvement Board of Marion County, which manages Lucas Oil Stadium, is expected to lose nearly $1 million on this weekend’s showcase event, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal. Expenses, including security costs, are expected to be $8 million, while revenues, including taxes, will be just over $7 million, the Journal reported.
One reason for the shortfall is that the contract with the NFL required CIB to waive all its usual rental and use fees in order to host the game.
“For the overall good of the city and state,” said Dan Huge, CIB’s chief financial officer, “we know that this is the right thing to do based on the economic impact it will have on the whole area.”
This article appears in the Jan. 30, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.