For Indy, Super Bowl more than just a game

City hopes to have lasting legacy following big event.

January 26, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)

The City of Indianapolis is getting set to host the nation’s biggest one-day sporting event: Super Bowl 46 on Sunday, February 5.

The excitement is already building. Indy’s spent millions of dollars getting ready for the game over the last four years and officials hope it will pay off. The glitz of the game is just for a day, but Indy’s big play is for a lasting legacy.

Of course, the City of Indianapolis is no stranger to hosting big sporting events. It’s hosted the Big Ten football championship, the NCAA men’s basketball final four.

And, let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all: The Indianapolis 500. But when it comes to the Super Bowl…there’s really no equal in America.

“In terms of a one-day event, this is not only Indianapolis’s biggest sporting event, it really is the world’s biggest sporting event,” says John Dedman, vice president of communications for the Indianapolis Sports Corporation, the entity that made the bid to the NFL to host the Super Bowl.

“The Super Bowl is America’s holiday,” Dedman says. “The media attention around the Super Bowl, the buzz that’s creating for Indianapolis and Central Indiana is just a level above anything we ever been able to do here before.”

When the National Football League announced in 2008 Indy would be hosting the Super Bowl, it triggered a massive investment in the tourism economy. The downtown now sports a number of new hotels, public art, attractions and other tourism attractions designed to showcase the city.

"We’ve added in the past three years you’ve seen about $3 billion in new tourism products added to Indianapolis,” says Morgan Greenlee, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. “We are calling this the year of the fan. There have been so many things that we are doing to make sure that that happens with the Super Bowl Village, the NFL Experience taking place inside. We are doing everything we can possible do to welcome people especially from Northwest Indiana and Chicago.”

A lot of the attention has been focused on downtown, but Super Bowl’s influence is being felt across the city.

Just a short drive from downtown Indy is a neighborhood called the Near East Side, a down-trodden area with abandoned housing and shuttered storefronts. It’s hard to find basic groceries in this part of town, I’m told.

The Super Bowl tourists won’t be coming to this part of town, but the game is having a positive economic impact on the neighborhood anyway. You can see that in the revitalization projects underway throughout the neighborhood.

"We’ve been on this one about three months now. It was completely boarded up. I mean, just a wreck,” says Drew Reinhart who is rehabbing a three-story, 3,000-square-foot–thousand home in the neighborhood.

It’s just one of dozens of abandoned homes that are getting a makeover.

“I think it’s amazing what they’re doing down here. I think they should have done it a long time ago before it got as bad as it did. I think it’s kind of sad that it took the Super Bowl to get some of this started. Now that it is, I think it’s a good thing,” Reinhart says.

Indirectly, the NFL has influenced this trend. It’s traditional for the league to make a donation in cities where the Super Bowl is played.

In this case, the NFL donated $1 million for a new community center on the Near East Side. The city of Indianapolis could have simply matched the funds …  but the community went further.

“It was really Indianapolis that said yes we can do that but couldn’t we do something much greater as a community,” James Taylor says, who heads the Boner Community Center  in the Near East Side. Taylor and host of volunteers raised more than $10 million to build what will be known as the Chase Near East Side Legacy Center.

It will be housed near a high school where some of the buildings date back to the Civil War era. The Legacy Center will have everything from computers and cooking equipment to a greenhouse and state-of-the-art fitness facility.

Josh Bowling lives in the Near East Side. He says the Legacy Center is spurring community participation unlike he’s seen before.

Every night we’re having different meetings about folks that want to come in and do different program for adults, for kids, for seniors,” Bowling says. “It’s going to be a place that we can be a hub for activity in the neighborhood. We don’t really have that now.”

The Legacy Center’s James Taylor thinks all this work could have happened without the Super Bowl being played in Indy but “There’s nothing like a deadline to create a call for action. I mean, the world is coming to your doorstep. You want to showcase what you are as community.”

The Legacy Center will open two days after the last points are scored in the Super Bowl.

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