Fruits of the Loop: An Unsung Milestone in Indy’s Downtown Development

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The last unpoured segment of the I-65/I-70 inner loop in Indianapolis spanned only 6.64 miles, but its completion—40 years ago this month—was long on impact.

Not that it didn’t get a proper dedication. On October 15, 1976, Governor Otis Bowen and Mayor William Hudnut led the ribbon-cutting ceremony as hundreds of citizens looked on—some standing, some sitting in vehicles lined up for a first spin on the pristine pavement.

They thought it was a big deal, and they were right.

Aerial view of downtown Indianapolis, Oct. 12, 1976, photo courtesy of University of Indianapolis

Aerial view of downtown Indianapolis, Oct. 12, 1976, photo courtesy of University of Indianapolis

“This was a necessary step in the transformation of Indianapolis,” says Bill Benner, who spent 33 years as an Indianapolis Star sportswriter and now serves as the Indiana Pacers’ senior vice president of public relations. “If I had to think of two things that got Indianapolis moving forward—finally—the first would be Market Square Arena [built in 1974], and the second would be the completion of the inner loop, which made it much easier for people to come downtown at night.”

To fully appreciate Indy’s middle-aged expressway, imagine 65,000-plus NFL fans spilling out of Lucas Oil Stadium and heading home on the stoplight-laden likes of Meridian Street, Washington Street, Kentucky Avenue, and other prime thoroughfares of yesteryear. Or don’t imagine it—because without this key piece of infrastructure, there might never have been a Lucas Oil Stadium.

“It was a series of dominoes,” Benner recalls. “Without the interstate, it would have really held back downtown development. So maybe you don’t have the Hoosier Dome, or the Indianapolis Colts, or the Super Bowl. And maybe you don’t have Circle Centre or Victory Field.” Not to mention the synergistic array of hotels, restaurants, brewpubs, and other central-city offerings we now take for granted.

Nowadays, Indy touts its accessibility when competing for athletic championships, says Ryan Vaughn, president of the Indiana Sports Corp. “When sporting events choose Indianapolis, they know their fans can get here easily … right to their hotel room,” he says. And it doesn’t hurt Vaughn’s cause when CNBC’s “Top States for Business 2016” ranks Indiana No. 1 in infrastructure.

But even before its grand opening, the inner loop—31 miles of interstate within I-465, built at a cost of nearly $300 million—had begun paying downtown dividends. Real estate values around the superhighway increased in the early 1970s, reversing a 35-year decline, and Mayor Hudnut also credited the road with stimulating such projects as the Hilton Hotel, the Indiana National Bank building, and the $150 million expansion of Eli Lilly & Co.

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