By Brian Howey
South Bend Tribune
HAMMOND, Ind. — 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, Tenn.
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 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 (American) 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 notes that Boone County has depleted water sources, but its location between Purdue University and Indianapolis makes 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. A generation 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.