Monday, July 21st, 2014

Why Does Louisville Have Better Restaurants Than Indianapolis?

I was briefly back on the homefront earlier this month to check out the now fully opened Big Four Bridge pedestrian path across the Ohio River in Louisville. While there I spent some time in NuLu, a retail and restaurant district centered on Market St. just east of downtown, and had dinner at a French bistro type place called La Coop. This place focuses on what I’d call the basics – it’s not trying to be a super high end kind of place. But I’m not going to lie, the undistinguished frites aside, the meal was spectacular front to back, and my date agreed.

Louisville is known for its many high quality restaurants. I doubt La Coop is tops on many people’s list, nor does it aspire to be. Yet preparing to drive back to Indy I was struck that La Coop is better than any restaurant in Indianapolis. My meal at La Coop was probably better than any one I’d had in Indy since L’Explorateur closed in 2009. And that’s a not uncommon occurrence when dining in Louisville. What’s more, La Coop was bustling by 8pm on a Tuesday night. While tables were certainly available, you can’t assume you can just walk in to a top restaurant there without a reservation, even on a weeknight.

Louisville clearly values fine dining in a way that Indianapolis doesn’t. Metro Indy is larger, better educated, richer, and much less provincial. Given that amenities generally fall along a size-wealth slope, by default you’d think Indy would do better on the restaurant front. But it doesn’t. Why is this?

Louisville clearly punches above its weight on restaurants. Part of this is due to the presence of a major culinary school. But that doesn’t explain the demand side of the equation. What does?

I see this as resulting at least in part from a cultural divide between the Midwest and the South, which seems to fall somewhere between these two cities. I argue the stronger aristocratic heritage of the South creates the conditions in which excellence is encouraged (or at least respected), versus the leveling democratic social state of the Midwest that anathematizes any distinctions between high and low and thus creates a climate in which excellence is disparaged (or distrusted at best).

Tocqueville is of course the best writer on the differences between aristocracy and democracy. Of aristocratic heritage himself, he recognized the overall superiority of the democratic state in uplifting the common man. The average condition in a democratic social state he would note, is higher than that of an aristocracy. He also saw clearly the many flaws of the aristocratic state. Yet he also realized that with the passing of aristocracy, things would be lost, especially in the realm of fine arts and refinement more broadly construed.

Tocqueville (among others) noted that the South was the most aristocratic region of the United States. That doesn’t mean he approved. In fact, he was not a fan of the US South, and wrote of its many manifest flaws, including the injustice of slavery and the many pernicious effects it had on the character of whites as well.

One of traits of aristocracy that seems to remain present in the South is the existence and embrace of an aristocratic class or caste. In many cases this is family based, such that, for example, you could never become fully part of the elite of Charleston as an outsider no matter how much money, talent, or class you have. But carpetbaggers and the nouveau riche are able to assimilate to some degree.

As with a feudal landholding, this aristocratic class exists as part of an integrated system with the lower classes. Thus the lower classes not only recognize the rights of aristocratic class to homage and such, the elites can even be a source of pride to ordinary residents of the community.

In this system, the upper class can cultivate high end tastes without incurring the opprobrium of the community. They are literally a class apart and are expected to depart from the average resident in terms of tastes and manners.

We see this clearly in the case of the so-called “Millionaire’s Row” at the Kentucky Derby. Actually, many Louisville locals never even attend the Kentucky Derby, instead attending the Kentucky Oaks, which is held the day before and is known as the race for the locals. (The Oaks itself attracts over 100,000 attendees). Most of them will certainly never visit the Derby’s more elite precincts. Yet, seeing the presence of celebrities and local elites in their finery on TV doesn’t produce resentment, but rather pride. The conspicuous consumption and lavish traditions of elite Louisville are something the average resident sees as reflecting well on their community as a whole, and hence to some extent even on themselves.

In terms of how this affects restaurants, Louisville’s elite can patronize high quality, high status establishments without shame. There is nothing seen as wrong in the community with them pursuing aristocratic tastes. Again, the high quality of Louisville’s restaurants can be a source of pride even to those who don’t patronize them. There are, of course, class tensions in Louisville such as the East End-South End divide. But class conflict itself implies multiple classes of people.

The situation is totally different in Indianapolis. In Indiana, the idea of an aristocratic type class would be viewed with hostility. There’s a democratic social state norm in which anyone who is viewed as too uppity is seen as having a moral defect. There’s only supposed to be one class of people. This has its virtues, but has debilitating effects as well. Take for example the classic line “He might have book learning but he doesn’t have any common sense.” You literally hear this in Indiana. Admittedly, in my case it may have been true. But the moral system underpinning it clearly explains why education is held in such low regard in the Midwest. It’s not just that education as such is viewed as not worth it; the pursuit of education indicates a type of moral deficiency.

So take a look at the traditions of the Indianapolis 500. Obviously US auto racing has a different culture than horse racing. But it still aligns with the social state. The 500 is a classic everyman’s type event, with a blue collar ethos, in which actual attendance by locals plays a major role. There are some celebrities of course, but celebrity/elite culture plays a very limited role there in contrast to the Kentucky Derby and certainly than international auto racing such as Formula 1. (The biggest personalities at the 500 are those with a particularly local traditional appeal – like Jim Nabors and Florence Henderson – versus contemporary celebrity star power).

This bleeds through into nearly every aspect of the civic culture in the state. I’ve long noted that there’s no culture of connoisseurship in Indianapolis. This is true for pretty much everything. Restaurants are but one example. While much better on average than they used to be, and certainly not bad by any means, Indy’s restaurants don’t measure up to Louisville’s with the notable exception of breakfast places. As the case with the aforementioned L’Exporateur shows, when Indy chefs do decide to put out a world class product, it isn’t patronized because it isn’t valued. It’s not about culinary talent, it’s about the customer base or lack thereof. The chef behind L’Ex opened a pizza place next. It should be no surprise that Indianapolis Monthly once had a cover story dubbing the city “Chain City, USA.”

My understanding is that there is a group of hardcore food and wine folks in Indy, but they do most of their consumption at private dinners and out of their private cellars. Public displays of refinement or luxurious consumption in Indianapolis are simply not acceptable.

This is but one example of how the pursuit of excellence in all varieties is disparaged and subject to active suppression in the state. This is hardly limited to Indiana and is a near universal Midwestern trait from what I’ve seen. Chicago offers the major exception, and I’ll exclude Minnesota as well for now since I don’t fully grok the culture there.

It’s been said pejoratively that “Indiana is the ‘middle finger of the South’ sticking into the Midwest.” And while it’s true that parts of Southern Indiana such as my hometown, being in Louisville’s orbit, have a heavy Southern influence, the state is not Southern in my view. It’s very different culturally and here we have one example. I easily see the same dynamic that exists in Indiana to various degrees in Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

That this is a cultural value is most clearly seen in the exceptions that prove the rule, like Columbus, Indiana. Columbus is by far the most successful small industrial city in the state, and home to a world-renowned collection of modern architecture among other distinctives. In a major essay on that city, I noted that “in Columbus, excellence is not a byword.” This was perhaps imposed externally by local business magnate J. Irwin Miller, but appears to have been stamped to some degree on the character of the community. As local business owner Tony Moravec put it, “We do things first class here.” Whether the value will be retained or dissipate now that Miller is dead remains to be seen, but it’s still there for now.

But in a state replete with struggling communities, has anyplace ever looked to imitate Columbus? Has it been held up as a model? No. Why not? It’s because Indiana as a whole rejects the values that made Columbus successful. J. Irwin Miller famously said that “a mediocrity is expensive.” True, but that misses the point re:Indiana. Mediocrity isn’t an economic value in the state. It’s a moral value. People aren’t choosing mediocrity in the mistaken belief that it’s cheap. They think aspiring to better is a character defect. That sacralization of average is why many of its communities are willing to martyr themselves in its honor. And if a place tries to aspire to better, don’t worry. The General Assembly will soon be introducing legislation to make sure that doesn’t spread.

This produces an enormous cultural headwind that is an impediment to even the cultural elite in their attempts to create high quality things, from good architecture to good restaurants. The attempts are compromised both via the internalization of this value, and external forces expressing it. As Paul Graham put it:

How much does it matter what message a city sends? Empirically, the answer seems to be: a lot. You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you’d be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference. But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that.

The restaurants of Indianapolis are well beyond mediocre, but they have clearly been affected by this characteristic of the social state in which they are operating.

One exception to this rule about the pursuit of excellence is in sports, and it’s a telling one. Hoosiers and Midwesterners want to see their teams win, but they want to see them win the right way and with the right kind of people that reflect the character of the state’s residents. In the South they just want wins and they don’t care how they get them.

Do you think anybody in Kentucky cares about the Calipari Way as long as UK is racking up wins and championships? Is it any surprise that it’s North Carolina where athletes get A’s in fake classes? Nobody cares in the South as long the wins come and behavior doesn’t get so bad it brings national publicity.

By contrast, Big Ten schools by and large expect their players to get an education and graduate, to demonstrate good character, and there’s a lifelong commitment and bond between coaches, fans, and players. When IU tried to import a UK style into its program with the Kelvin Sampson hire, the fanbase rejected it almost immediately. (By the way, I’ll never consider Penn State a Big Ten school, and Pennsylvania is not the Midwest). It’s similar in the way that the brawl era Pacers saw their fan support vaporize.

In Indiana particularly, from Milan High School to Steve Alford’s Indiana Hoosiers, the self-effacing, fundamentally sound, clean cut, small town type of player and team had big success. (Oscar Robertson was a player in the same mold. Though he never got his due at the time thanks to racism, he shows that even black Indiana players exhibited the same character traits). This perhaps convinced Hoosiers that their preferred style of doing things would bring success as well.

Unfortunately that hasn’t played out much recently, either in sports or economically. This produces cognitive dissonance and a sense of bitterness about a world that seems to have gone wrong. As I wrote re:Columbus and about how that city’s embrace of excellence paid economic rewards in a world where cheap places to do business are a dime a dozen:

It isn’t just something that affects architecture….This is a place with high standards for itself. This pays huge dividends in the economic development sphere. In a competitive world, only firms that deliver excellence can survive the brutal global competition. Which workers are more likely to produce excellent products, ones that demand excellence in their own communities, or ones who disparage it? How can any investor believe that residents who tolerate a run down, mediocre community for their own family to live in will suddenly start taking pride in the products coming off their employers’ production lines? It makes no sense at all.

I’m not sure the Midwest understands this lesson, or would take heed of it if it did. Rather there is, I detect, a martyrdom complex. People in the Midwest believe they are entitled to success the way they used to enjoy it because they live the right way. But if they don’t get it, at least their communities can die with their values intact. If this is in fact the case, it’s impossible to gainsay the decision. It’s even admirable in a sense. I myself would never adopt the values of UK basketball no matter how many championships it would bring. But then again I’m a Hoosier so of course I feel that way.

In any case, as Richard Longworth put it in his book about the failures of the Midwest in the age of globalization, “The first task is to tell the truth.” Simply stating the obvious truth that Louisville has better restaurants than Indy may generate blowback. But the larger and more painful truth is that Indiana and the Midwest have embraced mediocrity as a value in a way that hobbles the pursuit of excellence there, and has terrible economic and other consequences that go far beyond restaurants. Unless and until that truth is faced and things change, which may require something like an influx of outsiders not wedded to the status quo, the enormous potential of this region and its people will continue to be squandered.

Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Indianapolis, Louisville

190 Responses to “Why Does Louisville Have Better Restaurants Than Indianapolis?”

  1. John Morris says:

    Louisville’s hideous waterfront highway isn’t exactly setting a high standard either.

    In both cities/ states we have governments working to impose low quality projects that subtract value. Indiana is paying for a Kentucky highway project to spread the mediocrity.

  2. PeterW says:

    I *generally* agree with Aaron’s points about dining in Louisville vs. Indy, but I think the differences between the cities are more nuanced than in his description.

    95% of the restaurants in Louisville and Indy are interchangeable, consisting of chains or independent places serving uninteresting breakfasts, brunches, or pub food.

    The difference lies in the good, interesting, independent restaurants. Compared to Indy, a disproportionate number of of good independent restaurants in Louisville are of the fine dining, white tablecloth, $50 per person (or more) restaurants. Traditional somewhat formal sit down restaurants where you may not where a suit, but you might wonder if you should have.

    L’Ex was like this, but most of the restaurants in this space in Indy are chains or steakhouses. Good, high-end chains (Oceanaire, Seasons 52, etc.), but still chains.

    Indy does have a good, strong, independent restaurant scene, but it is much more gastropub than formal restaurant. Think Recess, Black Market, Napolese, Pizzology (yes), Brugge, Oakley’s bistro, etc. These aren’t mediocre by any means, and they tend to use fresh, interesting, and often local ingredients. They are as good as or better than any *comparable* restaurants in any other city in the US.

    But they are not “fine dining” restaurants of the white tablecloth French-influenced variety that is much more common in Louisville. At Black Market (as an example), you can get a solid half chicken or roasted lamb, both from local producers. But you won’t get duck liver pate or the kind of complex meals you can get at, say, Lilly’s in Louisville.

    And I think Aaron is right about the reasons for the dichotomy. Although, I will point out again that I don’t think “mediocre” is the right word to describe restaurants in Indy; I don’t think you can get a better pizza than Napolese in Louisville, and I’m not sure that anyplace in Louisville would prepare the dishes at Black Market any better than Black Market does.

    But the category of independent fine-dining restaurants in Indy is almost empty.

  3. Eric F says:

    Cincinnati’s Gateway Quarter, go ahead and count the restaurants along Vine from 12th to 14th-

  4. John Morris says:

    I was very impressed with that area.

  5. John Morris says:

    @Eric F

    I was reading about how many of New Orleans’s very high end white table restaurants are closing. There seems to be an overall shift towards casual but quality food- gastro-pubs, experimental food, ethnic influence.

    If anything, Louisville seems old aristocratic culture seems like a throw back.

    The problem I have with Indy, is the city & state seem to push policies that subsidize mediocrity and probably undercut organic culture. (influenced from what I have seen in Cleveland)

    An article from 2013 talks about raising entertainment taxes & imposing a 17% tax on car rentals. Most of this money flows towards Lucas Oil stadium, the convention center & downtown garage maintenance.

    I don’t know if they passed an increase or how these taxes break down. Are music venue tickets & cover charges taxed at a high rate like they are in Cleveland? Is there a special restaurant or liquor tax?

    Cleveland’s taxes have worked to shift money away from grass roots venues like The Beachland Ballroom & Happy Dog frequented by locals towards approved mega venues. The recent Sin Tax debate exposed an emerging fault line.

    My guess is a culture war may emerge between residents living near the downtown, small business owners and the moocher crony capitalist, hotel and stadium interests.

  6. John Morris says:

    These restaurant tax rate charts from 2012 are probably relevant.

    Overall there seems to be no major link between rates and healthy food scenes. NYC, DC & LA all have pretty high rates. Chicago diners are hit with a close to 11% rate.

    However, when compared to smaller regional cities considered to have stronger food scene’s Indy’s 9% rate seems pretty high.

    Columbus, Ohio has a ……..6.75% combined meal tax
    Louisville, Kentucky ……..6 %
    Cleveland, Ohio ………….7.5 %
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin……… 5.75 %

    This money is coming from somewhere – including the quality of food and service available.

    I don’t have the liquor tax figures which are an even more important factor in the average bottom line.

  7. Terry says:

    One meal at a French-ish restaurant in Louisville proves the inarguable superiority of the Louisville restaurant scene? And “fancy” restaurants are the standard for the argument here? And a city not embarrassed by the excesses of its proud elite class makes it better? Give me a break. How about we celebrate the fact that Indianapolis has MUCH better restaurants than it probably has ever had in its history. If you can’t enjoy the food at Plow and Anchor, Black Market, Bluebeard, The Local, 10-01 Food & Drink, Peterson’s, Recess, Taste, the Libertine, and about two dozen other high quality eateries without pining for some other better city where they’re eating fancier food, then you’re a sad, sad person. What is the point of stating unequivocally that one small-city scene is better than another? Let’s be glad that food in almost all places except the cities with the most entrenched scenes has improved dramatically over the last few years and call it a f***ing day!

  8. I almost have to laugh. Terry sums up the Hoosier/Midwest mentality perfectly. Don’t dare compare yourself against elsewhere, and if you say you want better for your city, you’re the problem and should shut up and celebrate what we have. It’s the active disparagement of the pursuit of excellence.

  9. Terry says:

    And L’Explorateur had white tablecloths, but it was very low key and not that “fancy.” The service, while generally good, certainly didn’t have the formality of old-guard French restaurants. I didn’t men in suits and ladies with hates there. Plenty of jeans and polos. Plow and Anchor is at least as fancy now. But it’s such a small and irrelevant point. Frankly, I like Neal’s decor and concept better at the Libertine. And the food is so much more consistently good there. Maybe the high points were better at L’Ex, but it’s more playful and hearty and approachable at the Libertine. I think people in other cities would be laughing at us for being so stuck on “fancy” as the standard for good food.

  10. Terry says:

    Go to every restaurant in Louisville–instead of one–over a period of several months with lots of specific evidence (you offer NONE about your meal) and then get back with me! Comparisons are fine and good, and we should definitely strive for excellence. But your argument is seriously lacking in specific evidence that would actually make it credible.

  11. John Morris says:

    Turns out they did pass the 2013 tax increase. Hotel, car rental and entertainment taxes are close to the highest in the nation.

    If this works the way it often does, the smaller venues get slammed by these taxes. The large ones are mostly taxing their own revenue streams to pay for subsidies to themselves.

    I think the combined tax on restaurant meals in Indy is now 10% which is in the top 2 or 3 in the country.

  12. By the way John & Co., did I not say “bistro type place”? The implication being that this restaurant is not a stuff haute cuisine type of place.

    The web site is here and you’ll note the lack of white tablecloths, if that matters to you:

  13. Parsifal says:

    I didn’t think Terry was disparaging the pursuit of excellence — he was merely defending the food scene in the city by citing nine restaurants that do pursue excellence in response to your measly one little restaurant as proof of Louisville’s superiority. I don’t think anyone said that they didn’t want better for their city, whatever that city is.

  14. Parsifal, I’ve seen that same basic comment many times before on places like the IBJ message boards. Dare to suggest that a taxpayer subsidized stinkbomb should have better architecture and you’ll hear same basic line of “Who are you to judge? / It’s better than what was there before / You should be thankful for what you’re getting.” The entire point is to denigrate calling out average (or worse) as well as to somehow cut down the person who says things could or should be better. NB the follow-up demand: “Go to every restaurant in Louisville–instead of one–over a period of several months with lots of specific evidence (you offer NONE about your meal) and then get back with me!”

  15. John Morris says:

    “Better than its ever been.” might be one of the world’s dumbest expressions.

    The human lifespan is far too short to allow a full perspective on things.

    Hence, the starting point for Indy are comparisons to memories of the downtown 1965-1970.

    This short memory, lack of perspective plays a big role in urban history. How many people alive in Indy can remember its Jazz scene? How many people in Pittsburgh personally remember a vibrant Hill District? (Luckily we have over 80,000 Teenie Harris photos to show what was there.) Look how shocked people are by the video of downtown Dallas in 1939.

  16. Terry says:

    If anyone believes that the evidence given about the quality of restaurants in Louisville in the original post was anything close to comprehensive, please raise your hand.

  17. Terry says:

    I’m not saying Indy is the best city on the planet. I’m not saying it’s even better than Louisville. I’m not saying Indy always strives for excellence or that we should put up with the crap we’ve got and be happy with it. The suggestion that I am is utterly patronizing.

    What I’m saying is that restaurants are more than white tablecloths. And that Urbanophile could do much better than this post at showing that. And I’d welcome that post.

  18. John Morris says:


    I am closer to agreeing with you, Aaron doesn’t provide enough info to back such a sweeping conclusion about Indy and certainly not the broad Midwest.

    But I do think public policy in Indy seems to push towards mediocrity. A 10% restaurant tax which funnels large amounts of money to a few government approved mass attractions has to be undermining the food scene. Surely all of Indy’s restaurants don’t benefit from these attractions equally- many don’t benefit at all.

    Cincinnati also has a pretty high sales tax that partly subsidizes stadiums. It probably should have a much stronger food scene.

    Underlying these policies is a very negative view of these cities and their organic potential.

  19. Chris Barnett says:

    John, the restaurant tax in Indianapolis is only 2% extra above the regular 7% state sales tax. Several of the suburban counties have a 1% tax.

  20. John Morris says:

    If they haven’t changed.

    Columbus, Ohio has a ……..6.75% combined meal tax
    Louisville, Kentucky ……..6 %
    Cleveland, Ohio ………….7.5 %
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin……… 5.75 %

    Only Cincinnati & Chicago are regional cities in the same territory.

    What effect do these taxes have? My guess is Indy they tend to shift money away from organic neighborhood restaurants towards sports bars & chain restaurants near downtown.

  21. John Morris says:

    Louisville seems to still have a 6% sales ta on restaurant meals compared to Indianapolis’s 9%.

    Even though they didn’t push it to 10%, Indy is 3% higher. That $ either is passed along to customers or reflected in lower quality. Still looming out there are proposals to further increase rates.

    Interestingly, Portland, Oregon has no sales tax at all.

    This supports the general theory that Indy’s entertainment spending is not growing as much as being shifted towards certain sectors like mega sports.

  22. Chris Barnett says:

    1. Sales tax is added to the bill in Indiana, just as it is everywhere else. When I am out for a $50/person dinner, the difference between $3.50 and $4.50 in tax doesn’t really figure in. In this instance a dining out tax isn’t regressive to the extent that a general sales tax is.

    2. When deciding where to eat out in Indiana, restaurants in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville are not part of the equation so the relative tax rates are irrelevant.

    3. Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville all have taxpayer financed stadia too; in Columbus’ case it’s one of the largest in the world. Neither taxes nor stadia are “the reason” Aaron perceived a difference in the Indy vs. Louisville dining scenes. Please give it a rest.

  23. John Morris says:

    Ultimately the taxes are part of what the customer has to pay. If the owner doesn’t think they can increase prices too high they have to cut quality or service to compensate.

    Indy also has among the highest hotel and car rental taxes in the nation.

    A large part of this money has been shifted into one area- the public face of Indy is a landscape of gigantic stadiums, garages and generic, large hotels.

    All of this is based on the self fulfilling myth that the city never had -or could have anything that would attract people- that Indy restaurants or entertainment venues couldn’t be great on their own.

  24. Chris Barnett says:

    John, Indy residents don’t typically pay hotel or car rental taxes. We live in homes here and drive our own cars. Again, this is irrelevant to restaurant quality.

    Both Louisville and Indianapolis have taxpayer-financed stadia, so that’s not a difference-maker in restaurant quality or food culture either.

    As Aaron points out, Louisville is home to more fast-food chains than Indy. Indy has Steak ‘n’ Shake. Louisville has the Kentucky Fried/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut conglomerate plus Papa John’s. Does this say something about restaurant quality or food culture?

  25. John Morris says:

    Non of these policies in any of these cities is wise, but Indy is the poster child of mega a city core oriented/ distorted/ controled by anti-urban mega facilities.

    This is the public face of Indianapolis people will see.

    You can’t have it both ways, only praising the alleged benefits of this without looking at the possible downside. Shifting that many resources into one area has effects.

    Your version of Indy history is highly distorted. The original city plan was not designed around highways. No it wasn’t designed as Manhattan – more like Paris or Berlin.

    Moreover, the plan has not payed off- meaning that Indy restaurant & small business owners should expect another big wave of hotel, restaurant, liquor or entertainment taxes.

  26. John Morris says:

    “Mayor Greg Ballard said the plan wouldn’t be an overnight fix for the capital city, which with 80 homicides so far this year could be on track to rival 1998, when the city saw a record 162 killings. But the mayor said his plan would help address some of the root causes of crime in the city, in part by expanding preschool access and fighting the high school drop-out rate.

    Ballard is asking for a .15 percent increase in the city’s public safety income tax, which would boost the tax to .50 percent. That amounts to about $5.32 a month for the average household in Indianapolis, where the median annual income is $42,063, and will enable the city to increase its police staffing to 1,677 officers by 2018, the mayor’s office said.”

    Originally, they planned to raise the restaurant sales tax to 10%. Who knows what else is coming?

  27. Jon says:

    @Chris… What publicly-financed stadia does Columbus have?

    Crew Stadium was privately built and privately owned.
    Nationwide Arena is funded, in part, by taxes on casino revenue, not a general public tax.
    Huntington Park was built with a mix of public-private funding, but does not require any public subsidy.

    The only places left are part of OSU, and it’s sporting revenues, especially from football, are in the black.

  28. John Morris says:

    I find it hard to believe OSU’s football stadium pays for itself. Could you offer some proof?

    Even so, OSU seems to be seeing a pretty huge surge in apartment construction near the field, increasing the % of people who walk to games or take transit. I assume there are game day shuttles.

    Few cities in America have distorted their urban structure around mega attractions like Indy. Baltimore might be the closest comparison.

  29. John Morris says:

    In terms of history, I think Atlanta makes a pretty good comparison to Indy.

    Both cities started to grow in the 1870-1900 period. The “golden age of Indianapolis” is considered the 1900-1930 period which fits Atlanta’s history. Both had extensive street car networks.

    Both cities were known for racial division & both cities had an industrial belt near the downtown.

    But, Atlanta is doing much better at filling that former industrial belt with pedestrian oriented infill.

    “AMLI Ponce Park
    AMLI’s newest complex, featuring 305 one-and-two bedroom units, is at 641 North Ave. just steps from the BeltLine. It’s expected to open in July.

    “Bohemian House
    Dubbed BoHoO4W, the 276-unit one-and-two bedroom apartment building at 477 Wilmer St. (off Glenn Iris Drive) held its grand opening in May.

    The Flats at PCM
    The exclusive 259 residential units at Ponce City Market building in the Old Fourth Ward include original details such as steel sash windows, exposed ceilings, architectural columns and European-style kitchens. Leasing is underway and move-ins are expected to begin in the fall.

    755 North
    The latest development from Perennial Properties is being built on a hillside above The Masquerade and adjacent to the BeltLine at the corner of North Avenue and Somersett Terrace. Move-ins are expected to begin at the 228-unit building in August.

    Atlanta Daily World Building
    Gene Kansas Commercial Real Estate has announced it will renovate the historic Atlanta Daily World newspaper building on Auburn Avenue into apartments and street-level retail. The apartments could be ready by fall.

    Alexan at Krog Street
    Trammel Crow Residential is building this 222-unit apartment building on the Eastside Trail of the BeltLine adjacent to the Stove Works. The apartments will be completed in summer 2015, and you’ll be able to walk across the street to Krog Street Market.”

    See the entire huge list.

  30. dom says:

    Living in Minnesota and from Indy originally. I wish the arguement about restaraunts would cease. Aaron is so right about mediocraty in Central Indiana especially. People in Indy never had an identity and still don’t. As for groking Minnesota Aaron. It’s like this. People embrace outdoor activities. Fishing and hunting are popular. Hiking, boating, biking, running, camping. And winter sports too! Cross country ski, downhill, snowboard.,ice fishing. By taking advantage of the natural resources Minnesota has the people living here are really living. But then again it goes beyond just the outdoors. We take care of our own. And we have problems too. All the urban problems Aaron notes are here in the Twin Cities and small cities. Luckily I’m a resident now of Duluth. There are no fine dinning or good middle of the road places to eat. But we do have a few diners and roadhouses up the shore and in the county. Best we can offer is to eat well at home and play alot outside.

  31. John Morris says:

    “People in Indy never had an identity and still don’t.”

    If you are under 150 years old, you probably can’t support that statement.

    The basic design of the old city has glimpses of real quality and care.

  32. John Morris says:

    The underlying idea behind the centrally controlled development strategy is that Indy has no identity (cow town) of value- and one needs to be imposed on it.

    Was it ever true, or has this policy of ripping apart neighborhoods and funneling resources into one area undermined cultural growth?

  33. David Holmes says:

    This is a little off topic, but some of John’s comments regarding the urban development focused on sports stadiums and mage-structures remind me of what I thought was a stunning quote by Mayor Ballard in a July 21, 2009 expression of interest that ultimately resulted in the privatization of the Indy water and sewerage treatment systems:

    “Indianapolis, like many large cities today, faces massive funding challenges related to maintaining its basic infrastructure. The estimated cost to bring our City’s infrastructure to a fair condition exceeds $5 billion. It is estimated that over $4 billion is needed for improvements to the City’s waterworks utility system (“Waterworks”) and wastewater utility system (“Wastewater”) and $1.5 billion for other basic infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, sidewalks and parks).”

    “With unparalleled public and private sector support, the City has made significant investments recently in important, high-profile facilities. Our field house for basketball, new international airport, new football stadium, and expanding convention center are the result of investments in excess of $3 billion by our community. These noteworthy facilities are important investments that must be maintained, but the high-profile nature of such facilities must not distract us from the need to invest in our basic infrastructure: our roads, bridges, sidewalks, parks, and Waterworks and Wastewater systems.”

    Wow. Bold words. No doubt the Mayor is correct that it may be important for a city to invest in basic infrastructure, and not just other “important investments” like sports facilities.

    I like Indy, and think the city exudes a positive energy. But my impression has long been that the City sold its soul to both the mega-sprawl and mega-structure “urban success” models, and that there would be hell to pay at some point. The bill for some of the neglected infrastructure is already coming due, with residents facing water and sewer rates that will double or triple from 2009-2025, and go from some of the lowest to among the highest in the US.

  34. Rod Stevens says:


    Portland has had the same doubling or tripling of rates, largely as a result of annexation. Fifty year ago, people wanting to avoid paying the higher hook-up rates of the City of Portland went outside the city limits, where they could build with septic fields. When the City annexed those areas ten or 15 years ago, existing customers in the sewer and water utilities subsidized those new connections. The City thought it was doing a good thing annexing those first ring suburbs to become larger, since it had seen new investment go there in the past. Those older suburbs have become poor, dilapitated, and needed of basic upgrades like paved roads, and the most recent generation of young people don’t want to live there, preferring instead the center city, where they are reinvesting in old houses and sparking a rebirth in commercial development. The center city thought it needed to be big to survive. Financially, it might have been better to go it alone. The question is whether it needed to rescue those neighbors to keep them from pulling it down. In terms of fairness, the state should have either mandated the upgrades, taking the cost out of the value of the homes, or provided a region-wide subsidy, not one just from the center city.

    There is a very interesting and very short book on this subject, written by the former mayor of Albuquerque, called “Cities Without Suburbs”. The basic thesis is that the creation of numerous municipalities and special service districts has created inefficient and inequitable financing metro-wide.

  35. John Morris says:

    Indy is seeing a range of tax hikes from property to sales. The state also has had to chip in money from a big liquor tax increase.

    Manhattan is the opposite- 22.9 square miles of land pretty much subsidize the rest of the city.

    I think it was Hammond Indiana that chose handouts to Cabela’s over flood control.

  36. John Morris says:

    Sorry, I was wrong. Looks like the plan to double state liquor taxes to funnel money into Indy’s sports stadiums was killed.

    Most articles bring up the same theme. The city has used $$ from basic services and infrastructure for stadiums & now needs to hike taxes. The ROI from these “investments” is so great they always need more money to be kept afloat.

  37. Gyrid says:

    The argument that the restaurants of Indianapolis are inferior to those of Louisville because the democratic social state of the midwest compels its residents to eschew excellence in favor of contently wallowing in mediocrity strikes me as laughably culturally tone deaf. While it would be difficult to deny that the culture of Louisville is more influenced by aristocracy than the culture of Indianapolis, claiming that this is the reason that Indianapolis trails Louisville in culinary excellence, and that Indianapolis would have it no other way (!), is inept at best. I would challenge you to find a single potential patron of L’Ex who never dined there because the ensuing “opprobrium of the community” would have been too much to bear.

  38. Greg says:

    It might be a bit extreme to imply the Big Ten is all about academic excellence at the expense of Southern colleges. Duke is in the South and has academic standards as high (or much higher) than most Big 10 schools and had a longer track record of excellence than any Big 10 school in basketball (save possibly for Indiana). Ohio State and Penn State have had their share of scandal lately. What’s the difference anyway? Most major college football players are in school for the game, an education is secondary by evidence of all the early withdrawals to the NFL.

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