Brian Howey: Should Indiana ‘swing for the fences’?


The Chicago Bears and White Sox are looking for new stadiums. The NFL franchise has purchased property in Arlington Park but is reportedly looking at sites from Waukegan (just south of the Wisconsin line), Naperville and Rockford as well as just south of Soldier Field. The Sox have been linked to Nashville.

I asked Brad Chambers, the former state Commerce secretary running for the Republican governor nomination, whether Indiana should make a play for the two franchises.

“Why don’t we swing for the fences in Indiana?” Chambers asked in response. “That’s exactly the line of thinking we should have. We are a great state with a great product. We should absolutely dream those big dreams. We have never been at this level of capital investment in state history. We proved it’s doable. Let’s shoot higher. Let’s shoot for the stars. I believe we could get them if we put our mind to it. The northern part of our state has enormous potential; enormous untapped potential.”

Chambers, who is facing U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden and Curtis Hill for the GOP nomination, has some credibility for his “let’s shoot for the stars” rhetoric. In the two years he spent at Commerce and the Indiana Economic Development Corp., he says he attracted a record $51 billion in investments to the state. As this May primary race heads into the homestretch, Chambers and Doden will both face questions about how much of these proposed investments panned out under their watch at IEDC.

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the Washington Wizards and Capitals will be moving to a sprawling mixed-use stadium and entertainment district across the Potomac in Alexandria. Similar projects have been proposed in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Baltimore and St. Petersburg.

I asked Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., about whether Indiana should seek these two pro franchises. “I’m as bullish on northwest Indiana as they come, but realistically, I doubt we could accommodate the Bears,” he said. “For that type of project you would need hundreds of acres. Maybe in the area of Gary you could find that kind of acreage available, but then again the Bears probably wouldn’t want to invest in that type of brownfield development.”

Chambers is bringing sprawling issues to this gubernatorial race. While at Commerce, he conceived the proposed Lebanon LEAP Innovation District in Boone County, that has resulted in Eli Lilly & Company’s biggest expansion in Indiana. It’s controversial because it relies on tapping water from the Wabash River watershed.

“We have a strategic advantage in water compared to the (U.S.) West,” Chambers told me. “It’s a strategic advantage that can power our economy. You want to manage that asset. That’s why you need a strategic water study that identifies where the abundance is, where it needs to be, and how to get there.”

He said Boone County has depleted water sources, but its location between Purdue University and Indianapolis make it a prime economic development site. “We can solve that problem by using in-bound economic development,” he explained. “Let’s take the burden off taxpayers. Let’s use in-bound new incremental revenues and economic development to solve that water problem; that water transportation problem, if the studies concluded that no one would be negatively affected.”

That kind of thinking may be viewed as reckless by some, and bold by others. More than 40 years ago, Indianapolis mayors Richard Lugar and Bill Hudnut had the audacity to plan and build a stadium — the Hoosier Dome — before there was an NFL team ready to play there.

That gamble brought in the Baltimore Colts, then the NCAA headquarters, Big Ten and collegiate championship games, and a sprawling sports portfolio that, along with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has become the city’s modern identity.

It was the proverbial swing for the fences.

Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs, where this column was previously published. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].

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