Legislative Update: All-Star Edition

Anyone who’s had the good fortune to walk anywhere in Mile Square this past week shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves humming Carly Simon’s 1977 hit “Nobody Does It Better.” Downtown Indy has been humming with energy in the run-up to this weekend’s NBA All-Star game—we’d be only mildly surprised if suddenly every driver, cyclist, and pedestrian inside the Inner Loop broke into synchronized song and dance.  

Yes, Indy is preparing to do what Indy does best: roll out the welcome mat to visitors from across the country and the globe, spreading Hoosier Hospitality like basketball fans doing the wave at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Grab some popcorn and your best foam finger—it’s the Indy Chamber Legislative Update: All-Star edition. 

BOOM, Baby!! 

No one did it—or said it—better than the legendary late ABA Pacers coach and eventual commentator Bobby “Slick” Leonard.  When have two words so perfectly encapsulated a community’s excitement and execution in hosting major sporting events?  

If hosting the entire 2021 NCAA March Madness tournament in the bubble was the tip-off for Indy’s post-pandemic recovery, the 2024 NBA All-Star game is the city’s tour de force. This weekend has been nearly a decade in the making and is the result of careful and creative planning on the part of city officials, Visit Indy, the Indiana Sports Corp.—along with critically important legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2019.  

125,000 visitors are expected in downtown Indy over the weekend and an estimated $325 million economic impact on the local economy. Hosting the All-Star game should bring Hoosiers a lot of BOOM (baby) for their buck—especially those bucks invested in downtown cleanliness and renovations.  

The NBA All-Star achievement is a textbook example of what can be accomplished when state legislators work collaboratively with local officials to support economic development strategies that fuel the entire state. It's timely as members of the Indiana General Assembly are set to consider legislation that does the exact opposite on Tuesday, February 20.  

That’s when the Senate’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee will take up HB 1199, which seeks to repeal the enabling legislation for the Mile Square Economic Enhancement District (EED), while the House Roads and Transportation Committee will consider SB 52, which would effectively kill IndyGo’s Blue Line. 

[If you’re already a fan of the Mile Square EED, click here to sign our letter to legislators.

The Indy Chamber has been vocal in our opposition to both pieces of legislation. Establishing a special taxing district for the Mile Square has been a policy priority for Indy Chamber’s membership for multiple years. We’ve watched and researched as peer cities across the country have successfully leveraged such districts to sustain vibrant, safe, healthy urban cores that fuel local, regional, and state economies.  

Our partners at Downtown Indy, Inc., secured COVID relief grant funding for a proof-of-concept pilot project that paid for the enhanced services downtown property and business owners said were needed to maintain the most heavily traveled square mile in Indiana. While the results of Downtown Indy, Inc.’s pilot project are impressive, the grant funds behind it are soon to expire. But having seen the impact for themselves, Mile Square property and business owners are united in their support of the Mile Square EED.  

It’s not enough for the Mile Square to be in All-Star shape one weekend in February. In a January Inside Indiana Business editorial urging support for the Mile Square EED, Indiana Sports Corp President Patick Talty noted in the raft of major events coming to the city in 2024: NFL Scouting Combine, the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Championship, the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament, and the National Invitation Tournament, the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.  

These events, all of which will occur in downtown Indy, are expected to drive upwards of $450 million in economic impact to our local basket in the near term. Long-term, there’s no more powerful or persuasive advertisement to organizers of future big events than watching Indy put on a Michael-Jordan-at-the-1987-Slam-Dunk-Contest display. And in a state hungry for college-educated talent, having scores of high-performing college athletes scheduled to visit Indy in the coming months could prove a recruiting boon for Indy Region businesses, if - and only if - those young people witness the kind of safe, vibrant community they’ll want to call home after graduation.  

Rarely have downtown stakeholders been so broadly unified as they are in support of the Mile Square EED. Homeowners, business leaders, the faith community, arts and cultural institutions, law enforcement, health systems, and nonprofit service providers are speaking in one voice to members of the Indiana General Assembly – and we must do all we can to make that voice heard at the Statehouse between now and Tuesday. Add your name to the list of signatories to the joint Indy Chamber/Downtown Indy letter to legislators. Contact your legislator before Tuesday’s hearing to let them know you support the Mile Square EED and oppose efforts to repeal it.  

In other words, get your game on.  

BUS, baby!! IndyGo joins the All-Star team 

To make getting around town as easy as possible for Indy’s 100K+ visitors, IndyGo is going fare-free for the duration of All-Star weekend. The move is further evidence of IndyGo’s value as a critical economic development partner for Indianapolis and the Indy Region [in case you’re wondering—no, the Las Vegas Regional Transportation Commission did not make similar provisions for last weekend’s Super Bowl].  

To recap, IndyGo’s all-electric Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was the vision of former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. In 2014, the Republican mayor, along with the mayors of Westfield, Carmel, and Greenwood, joined forces with then-Senators Dan Coats (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) and Representative Andre Carson (D) to secure a federal planning grant to study development of IndyGo’s Red Line. Speaking at the time about the Red Line’s development, then-mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel said, “If we do that, we’re going to be able to attract great employers to this area. If we don’t do that we aren’t going to be able to compete with other areas that are doing it better.” 

Two years later, Marion County voters concurred, voting by a wide margin (58%-42%) to adopt a .25 percent income tax referendum to fund transit improvements, including bringing electric BRT lines to Indianapolis. The Indy Chamber championed the referendum and supported efforts to educate and engage voters on the issue.  

Which is to say, a coalition of four Republican mayors, Indy Chamber’s membership, and nearly 60% of the Marion County voting public envisioned and agreed to chip in for IndyGo’s BRT plan. But Tuesday’s hearing of SB 52 in the House Roads and Transportation Committee could be the final buzzer for IndyGo’s Blue Line.  

SB 52 proposes one-year delay in Blue Line construction, which will put the cost of the project permanently out of reach—as would the suggestion from some lawmakers that IndyGo abandon the plan for dedicated bus lanes on the Blue Line’s route along Washington Street. Doing so would forfeit $150 million in federal support for the Blue Line without which we're not likely to see any variation of the Blue Line built.  

We wonder how All-Star visitors would respond if asked whether they would’ve liked the option of taking an electric rapid-transit bus from Indianapolis International Airport to their hotel in downtown Indy? For that matter, we wonder how many of Indiana’s state legislators use similar modes of travel when they visit other major cities?  

Robust, accessible public transit is a given in every major economic, cultural, and tourist hub in the world. Stalling the Blue Line threatens to stall the Indy region’s continued economic growth.  

So, when you contact your legislator between now and Tuesday to voice your support for the Mile Square EED, be sure to mention your support of IndyGo’s plan for the Blue Line as well. It’s vitally important that Indy Chamber members make themselves heard on these two critical issues. 

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