Indy Magic???

How is it possible for Indy to host so many national sporting events?

This past weekend was my maiden voyage to the capital of Indiana, Indianapolis. I’ve driven through the largest city in the Hoosier State many times on my way to Florida or Ohio but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to experience it firsthand.

When you drive through some cities without stopping to sense the pulse and beat of the city, it may be hard to get the feel for the town. This idea could also apply here. For a new locale, general questions might include, what are the residents like? And, what do the locals do for fun? Or, what makes this town go? In particular, questions about Indy might be why is it such a popular spot for sporting events on a national level? How is it possible for a Midwestern city to host a Super Bowl and leave such a positive legacy about the event and their town? How are they able to continue to build on their positive brand? And, what’s so special about this Midwestern town?

Therefore, in my feeble opinion, to a true feel for this place, one needs to be fitted with urban hiking attire and walk around to see and feel what’s happening in the city – with a detailed map, a pen and paper and a concealed camera to try to fit in as much as possible.

True confessions, I enjoy televised sports and this includes the strategy of sports so part of my desire visiting this town was to determine how Indy is able to attract so many large venues, which includes snagging the Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. I read recently that Indy permanently obtained the Big Team football title game without a main Big Ten university campus. Nice, if you can get that work. They’ve hosted other larger events in the past too so what’s their secret? How do they pull it off? What’s their main selling point?

In the southwest part of downtown, you will find the facility that hosted Super Bowl 46. Yes, it’s a dome stadium with a retractable roof but some NFL aficionados have been brainwashed to think most attendees want NFL’s biggest day in a warm climate. I’m sure folks here would not concur with that philosophy. How did they grab Super Bowl XLVI with their colder winter climate? Because it is in the middle? Not just geographically placed within Indiana but sort of in the middle for a large part of the U.S. population. Perhaps doing a good job with the Indy 500 for many years help persuade the NFL to give them a shot. Did corporations and organizations noticed Indy did not shy away from hosting big events so past performance would indicate they could handle a variety of future venues on the racetrack, gridiron or on the hardwood.

testAs I peruse around the center of town, I quickly realize that many events and sites are within walking distance, especially during cooperative weather. The Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) shared campus is a 15 minute walk from the State Capital using the ubiquitous walking and bike trails. The IUPUI campus is also close to the NCAA museum, Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg and Indiana State museums and many hotels. If you don’t mind beating the pavement a little more and sometimes skipping out of the way of cyclists, Victory Field is nearby where you can sometimes catch Triple AAA baseball and observe the Indianapolis Indians try to score more runs than their opponents. A venue that holds nearly 16,000 spectators. Walking east a few more blocks, you will see Lucas Oil stadium – a facility Peyton Manning help build (even though most Colts’ fans don’t talk about him anymore).

A few days after visiting, I read on Wikipedia that according to and Forbes, Indianapolis has one of the best downtown areas in the States. Mind you, I didn’t need Wikipedia for that validation as I was more and more impressed the more time I spent wandering around downtown Indy. In addition to the most popular venues including Bankers Life Fieldhouse (where the Pacers play), there are over 35 hotels and approximately 500 retails shops and restaurants within the central business district. Is it remarkable that so many interesting and tourist related things are so damn close to each other in downtown Indianapolis? It’s big enough to find things to do but perhaps not too big to lose its Midwest charm. Is it any surprise that Indiana’s largest city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the States?

During some intermittent stormy weather, I discover the skywalks. These gateways connect to hotels, convention centers, shopping and restaurants. I would never consider Indianapolis the Skywalk capital of the U.S. — another polis (Minneapolis) would retain that title hands down. Regardless, the skywalks appear to be strategically placed to help connect you to main segments of downtown while also providing foot traffic the flexibility to choose various route options.

The area is not perfect, there are some panhandlers on street corners although it appears fewer panhandlers than a comparable sized city. Although there’s begging, from what I saw, these panhandlers are not aggressive and the ethnic breakdown of these beggars might just accurately represent the overall metropolitan racial makeup.

I was also struck at how often alleyways are used by residents to get to places throughout downtown – certainly not a phenomenon one would see in Chicago’s Loop. Whether you walk via skywalk or take the more traditional route, the city, and especially the downtown milieu is quite clean. I rarely saw any paper or garbage strewn about with recycling containers perhaps more commonplace than garbage containers. The absence of urine smell under bridges and around alleyways was a delightful surprise. Being a resident of Metropolitan Chicago, and when the weather heats up, I’m conditioned that certain areas of the Windy City typically have that ‘urban smell’ which I’ve found is not part of most visitors’ bucket list.

My visit to Indy was a small sample, just three days, based on its size, I get the idea that people are a little more friendly and welcoming here. Tourist brochures are laid out throughout heavily visited areas, and people are more inclined to smile or make eye contact. There are some who keep their distance and I don’t necessarily know if crime is an issue, especially in the central business district, but my sense indicates that areas around the downtown area did not have that “scetch” feeling and were generally secure. Because tourism is a vital part of their economy, the downtown area may be well patrolled to keep a favorable image on their brand.

Indy appears to actively engage in the adage ‘act like you’ve been there.’ In other words, the city works hard at welcoming guests and are composed and confident that events and festivals will be well attended and attendees will have a good time. Their positive experience of the city will continue to fuel that positive perception as the Indy brand of hospitality continues to grow and develop.