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The Simons versus the Runyons explains how Indianapolis became the city Louisville should have been

by Terry Boyd

Louisville’s guiding ideal …

You shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s possessions. You shouldn’t envy your neighbor’s successes.

Yet I can’t help but look at Indianapolis without thinking what could have been in Louisville had we had different (read, “half-way decent”) leadership.

Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl yesterday.

We get the Farm and Machinery Show.

Indianapolis’ reality.

They have the Colts and the Pacers.

We have the Bats or River Bats or whatever they are this week.

While Louisville still has a significant percentage of homes in foreclosure, there’s a building/renovation boom from the center of Indianapolis out to Carmel on the northern edge.

But what I find most galling is, they have retail in a downtown that looks like a mini-Chicago.

Even though the East Market Street renaissance is our biggest commercial success story, a mile away, Louisville’s downtown is still a shell of what it was 50 years ago.

Back in the 1950s, Indy was a cow town, and Louisville was the dominant city of the South, an industrial center on par with Cincinnati, and superior to Indy and Nashville.

How did we get so dramatically left behind?

We had every comparative advantage over Indianapolis from weather to transportation infrastructure, yet they grew and we did not.

The difference?

Again, leadership.

Let us consider two families who’ve shaped the two towns — the Runyons of Louisville, and the Simons of Indianapolis.

In Louisville, there are few (thank God) with the outsized influence of Keith and Meme Sweets Runyon.

Meme Sweets Runyon is the founder and executive director of River Fields, the anti-progress group that’s managed to defeat every attempt to build the East End Ohio River bridge, a bridge that would lead to all the other crucial infrastructure upgrades Louisville so desperately needs.

Keith Runyon, editor of the Courier-Journal opinion page, led the opposition that ended up killing the mega hospital merger that would have – if structured properly – enhanced health care availability and quality across Kentucky.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who had the final say on the publicly owned University of Louisville Hospital merging with Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, was so cowed by Runyon and the CJ’s ultra-liberal editorial board he notified Runyon of his decision to nix the deal five hours before he notified U of L President Dr. James Ramsey, according to U of L insiders.

Meme Sweets Runyon doesn’t want a bridge, we don’t get a bridge.

Keith Runyon doesn’t want a hospital merger, we don’t get a merger.

The Runyons and other limousine liberals such as the Binghams have always held a moonlight and magnolias, antebellum view of what Louisville should be –  a melange of Downton Abbey patrimony and a Henry Watterson plantation mentality. (Explains it all fact: Legendary CJ publisher Watterson fought alongside Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. True story.)

A vision of Louisville’s old mansions (the new “The Country Houses of Louisville” perfectly catches this sentimentality) stretching from Glenview out to Covered Bridge and Rose Island roads, surrounded by simple proletariat living in harmony, trusting the unfailing, if sometimes harsh, judgement of the aristocratic blue bloods running the city.

Now, let’s look at the Simons of Indianapolis.

The late Simon Property Group founders Mel and Herb Simon were schtetl Jews from New York.

Aggressive and forward thinking, the Simon brothers worked with Democratic and Republican mayors alike to transform Indy  from “Indiana No Place,” to the host of the Super Bowl.

The Simons pushed Indy’s conservative leadership to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build Circle Centre mall downtown in an aggressive, one-sided deal that makes the Cordish Companies’ shakedowns of Jerry Abramson look like benevolent philanthropy.

That said, the transformation of downtown Indianapolis with retail and football stadiums led to the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhoods such as Broadripple, which is the size of 10 NuLus.

As an Anglo-Jew, I have a foot in each camp.

No Jew ever wants to go backward, for the obvious reasons.

No WASP ever can shake the fantasy of returning to the plantation, sitting around Monticello sipping Montrachet with Thomas Jefferson. And remember, Kentucky used to be part of Virginia.

No city can  ever go forward when people with real power wish it to remain comfortably as it is. But remaining comfortably as we are isn’t a realistic option.

Just ask the people in Akron and Allentown.

Abramson, love him or hate him, had the courage to transform sleepy Standiford Field into a huge airfreight hub, the only thing that’s kept Louisville from going dark.

At this pivotal moment as we recover from the Great Recession, there is no Louisville counterbalance to the Runyons. Someone with the courage and clout to stand up to them and build the bridge, fix the teetering health care system and get this city unstuck in time.

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  • http://twitter.com/kycoffeeguy Rich

    WOW!  So True.  Welcome to Louisville, set your clock back 20 years.

  • http://twitter.com/kycoffeeguy Richard

    WOW!  So True.  Welcome to Louisville, set your clock back 20 years.

  • http://www.internet-bard.com KatFrench

    As a professional who lives in Indiana and works in Louisville, I also “have one foot in each camp.” I’ll be honest, for years I was puzzled by all the resistance I saw to changes that would clearly benefit Louisville. Particularly the bridge situation, but that’s a dead horse that’s been reduced to a greasy tallow mark at this point. 

    But lately, with the renaissance I see happening in New Albany and Jeffersonville, and even “backwoods” Corydon beginning to see the light that Louisville has somehow missed… I’m resigned to just give up on my Bluegrass neighbors. If southern Indiana keeps growing at the rate that it is, it won’t be long before something like the Sherman Minton closure is a nonissue… because no one in Indiana will have a reason to care. In fact, the last two times I had to go to Cincy, I routed through Madison. With the Shermon Minton out, it took no longer, was a prettier drive, and I didn’t have to worry about soiling the East End’s gentile highways with my dirty Hoosier tires.   

  • http://www.internet-bard.com KatFrench

    As a professional who lives in Indiana and works in Louisville, I also “have one foot in each camp.” I’ll be honest, for years I was puzzled by all the resistance I saw to changes that would clearly benefit Louisville. Particularly the bridge situation, but that’s a dead horse that’s been reduced to a greasy tallow mark at this point. 

    But lately, with the renaissance I see happening in New Albany and Jeffersonville, and even “backwoods” Corydon beginning to see the light that Louisville has somehow missed… I’m resigned to just give up on my Bluegrass neighbors. If southern Indiana keeps growing at the rate that it is, it won’t be long before something like the Sherman Minton closure is a nonissue… because no one in Indiana will have a reason to care. In fact, the last two times I had to go to Cincy, I routed through Madison. With the Shermon Minton out, it took no longer, was a prettier drive, and I didn’t have to worry about soiling the East End’s gentile highways with my dirty Hoosier tires.   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D5M3L45MUH7GSPKKRT5AVVSMLA Dean

    Louisville has a much greater quality of life than Indianapolis, much greater character, better cultural life and a better food culture.  Indianapolis for the most part is a large sprawling characterless overblown suburb.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D5M3L45MUH7GSPKKRT5AVVSMLA Dean

    Louisville has a much greater quality of life than Indianapolis, much greater character, better cultural life and a better food culture.  Indianapolis for the most part is a large sprawling characterless overblown suburb.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2T7QUL43JQ745AJAVE3EUPLCGE Cruke Duise

    If Louisville was Indianapolis I wouldn’t live in Louisville, and that is a fact. I’ve spend weeks-at-a-time on business in Indy, mostly staying downtown. It is night and day from Louisville. They have retail, a moving theatre, and pro sports. They also have no character (you might as well be walking around Hurstbourne Lane), no decent restaurants, and, as I see it, little chance of developing either.

    Quality of life and livability isn’t judged by how many P.F. Changs you have or how much your city sprawls. Sorry. And, interesting that you note Broad Ripple, but completely dismiss Louisville’s great neighborhoods that have always been the hallmark of this city.

    So while Louisville isn’t perfect, I would cringe if Indy represented the ideal we pursue. Louisville’s downtown hasn’t developed like Indy’s. But it has the potential (and, I think currently has the vision and leadership) to be so much more. It won’t be a suburbanized downtown – with an indoor mall. But it can be, and will be, a place with great eats, interesting shops, and character.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2T7QUL43JQ745AJAVE3EUPLCGE Cruke Duise

    If Louisville was Indianapolis I wouldn’t live in Louisville, and that is a fact. I’ve spend weeks-at-a-time on business in Indy, mostly staying downtown. It is night and day from Louisville. They have retail, a moving theatre, and pro sports. They also have no character (you might as well be walking around Hurstbourne Lane), no decent restaurants, and, as I see it, little chance of developing either.

    Quality of life and livability isn’t judged by how many P.F. Changs you have or how much your city sprawls. Sorry. And, interesting that you note Broad Ripple, but completely dismiss Louisville’s great neighborhoods that have always been the hallmark of this city.

    So while Louisville isn’t perfect, I would cringe if Indy represented the ideal we pursue. Louisville’s downtown hasn’t developed like Indy’s. But it has the potential (and, I think currently has the vision and leadership) to be so much more. It won’t be a suburbanized downtown – with an indoor mall. But it can be, and will be, a place with great eats, interesting shops, and character.

  • http://twitter.com/Davis_Douglas Doug Davis

    While I agree with on the bridge problem and its debilitating affects on economic development and growth, we part ways on everything else.
    1. Indianapolis is a huge sprawling suburban blight.
    2. Their “awesome” downtown is empty on weekends and after 5pm. Versus Louisville’s restaurants, condo’s and entertainment venues.
    3. Their NFL stadium is going broke (bond issues) and the Superbowl cost the taxpayers more than it brought in in revenues.
    4. 2008 Louisville was named one of the Top Twenty Places To Live NOW! by Outside Magazine. Indy? Not so much.
    5. We were the #1 in the large city category for conferences last year.
    6. Our food scene and chefs garner world renown attention. Indy? Not so much.
    7. Our health care isnt grumbling. U of L Hospital despite all protestations to the contrary made a profit last year. And innovative public/private partnerships will see that continue in the future.
    Terry, you need to come over to the glass half full side buddy.

  • http://twitter.com/Davis_Douglas Doug Davis

    While I agree with on the bridge problem and its debilitating affects on economic development and growth, we part ways on everything else.
    1. Indianapolis is a huge sprawling suburban blight.
    2. Their “awesome” downtown is empty on weekends and after 5pm. Versus Louisville’s restaurants, condo’s and entertainment venues.
    3. Their NFL stadium is going broke (bond issues) and the Superbowl cost the taxpayers more than it brought in in revenues.
    4. 2008 Louisville was named one of the Top Twenty Places To Live NOW! by Outside Magazine. Indy? Not so much.
    5. We were the #1 in the large city category for conferences last year.
    6. Our food scene and chefs garner world renown attention. Indy? Not so much.
    7. Our health care isnt grumbling. U of L Hospital despite all protestations to the contrary made a profit last year. And innovative public/private partnerships will see that continue in the future.
    Terry, you need to come over to the glass half full side buddy.

  • Anonymous

    Louisville would certainly be perfect if we could just send the Runyon’s to the Indianapolis so we could complete the east end bridge! Overall Louisville is much better anyway, certainly financially and with this minor change would probably be the best city in the nation!

  • Msradell

    Louisville would certainly be perfect if we could just send the Runyon’s to the Indianapolis so we could complete the east end bridge! Overall Louisville is much better anyway, certainly financially and with this minor change would probably be the best city in the nation!

  • Anonymous

    I honestly laughed out loud when I read this.

    DT Indianpolis as a mini-Chicago with great retail? Since when does an inward-looking mall where Nordstrom recently closed constitute great retail? Indy tax payers paid through the nose for this gem. And the stadiums…ask Indy residents about their sales and hotel taxes for them. Broadripple being 10 Nulus? (Terrible analogy, by the way — Broadripple is Indy’s Highlands, not their NuLu. Mass Ave is Indy’s Nulu, and Nulu blows Mass Ave away, as do the Highlands blow away Broadripple.) Talking about the entire North Side of Indy being blanketed with new construction (Maybe you ought to drive in any other direction out of DT Indy sometime — you might have a different opinion) and then imply that Indy’s foreclosure rate is lower than Louisville’s?  The forclosure rate in Indy is higher than US average at 3.55%, while Louisville’s is below US average at 2.94%

    Now, don’t get me wrong, Louisville and it’s leadership are not perfect. Quite far from it, and sometimes they need to have their heads banged a bit. However, the writer should be careful what he wishes for. The same old-money aristocracy that he’s railing against, also has protected many of the institutions and things that are held dear in Louisville.

    Amazing park system that is only getting better with the City of Park Initiative? Thank old-money people (don’t look in Indy for anything even camparable to Louisville’s park system)

    A restaurant scene that punches well above its weight class? Thank old-money people for maintaining a culture that expects excellent food. (nope, not in Indy either)

    A decent art scene? Thank old-money people (and their legacies) for that too. (Another demerit for Indy)

    The list can go. Indianapolis does some things really well, but when I go to Indy I’m not wowed or awed or walk away thinking they’ve got it all figured out. They certainly don’t. And Louisville has plenty of smart pople in it who can lead us to greater prosperity — on our terms.

  • LouisvilleJake

    I honestly laughed out loud when I read this.

    DT Indianpolis as a mini-Chicago with great retail? Since when does an inward-looking mall where Nordstrom recently closed constitute great retail? Indy tax payers paid through the nose for this gem. And the stadiums…ask Indy residents about their sales and hotel taxes for them. Broadripple being 10 Nulus? (Terrible analogy, by the way — Broadripple is Indy’s Highlands, not their NuLu. Mass Ave is Indy’s Nulu, and Nulu blows Mass Ave away, as do the Highlands blow away Broadripple.) Talking about the entire North Side of Indy being blanketed with new construction (Maybe you ought to drive in any other direction out of DT Indy sometime — you might have a different opinion) and then imply that Indy’s foreclosure rate is lower than Louisville’s?  The forclosure rate in Indy is higher than US average at 3.55%, while Louisville’s is below US average at 2.94%

    Now, don’t get me wrong, Louisville and it’s leadership are not perfect. Quite far from it, and sometimes they need to have their heads banged a bit. However, the writer should be careful what he wishes for. The same old-money aristocracy that he’s railing against, also has protected many of the institutions and things that are held dear in Louisville.

    Amazing park system that is only getting better with the City of Park Initiative? Thank old-money people (don’t look in Indy for anything even camparable to Louisville’s park system)

    A restaurant scene that punches well above its weight class? Thank old-money people for maintaining a culture that expects excellent food. (nope, not in Indy either)

    A decent art scene? Thank old-money people (and their legacies) for that too. (Another demerit for Indy)

    The list can go. Indianapolis does some things really well, but when I go to Indy I’m not wowed or awed or walk away thinking they’ve got it all figured out. They certainly don’t. And Louisville has plenty of smart pople in it who can lead us to greater prosperity — on our terms.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Boyd’s article is a re-hash of old news and some mis information.  Let’s give Indy it’s due with the rave reviews it is receiving for the Super Bowl.  I will also agree that River Fields and Meme deserve any darts thrown their way regarding opposition to the East End Brideg.  That said, let’s not get into the hand-wringing woe-is-me-Louisville-is-not-Indy-thing. 

    Many of the comments are correct and I agree with them.

    Let Louisville ‘wow’ the NCAA as host of 1-2nd round in March so we can earn a Regional!  Maybe we should create a Derby Village….or Breeders Cup Village…or ATL New American Plays Village….or PGA Village….for those events.

    How about a permanent zip-line from the Muhammad Ali Center to Shippingport Island?

  • RyderCup1

    Mr. Boyd’s article is a re-hash of old news and some mis information.  Let’s give Indy it’s due with the rave reviews it is receiving for the Super Bowl.  I will also agree that River Fields and Meme deserve any darts thrown their way regarding opposition to the East End Brideg.  That said, let’s not get into the hand-wringing woe-is-me-Louisville-is-not-Indy-thing. 

    Many of the comments are correct and I agree with them.

    Let Louisville ‘wow’ the NCAA as host of 1-2nd round in March so we can earn a Regional!  Maybe we should create a Derby Village….or Breeders Cup Village…or ATL New American Plays Village….or PGA Village….for those events.

    How about a permanent zip-line from the Muhammad Ali Center to Shippingport Island?

  • http://twitter.com/Davis_Douglas Doug Davis

     Very well said!

  • http://twitter.com/Davis_Douglas Doug Davis

     Very well said!

  • http://insiderlouisville.com Terry Boyd

    Down with the zip line!!!

  • Pingback: The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Facing Tough Facts in Louisville

  • http://twitter.com/ThorIndy Thor Wood

    I recommend speaking factually rather than through assumptions.  Frankly the NFL would NEVER have allowed a Superbowl in Indy were it not a truly great metro capable of such a high-profile event.  Check this stat out- Over 1.1Million separate visits occurred during the Celebration in Downtown Indy during the week.  Try that on for size in your Downtown.  It would never happen.  It would shut down the ‘ville.  Here are some numbers from the urbanophile:

    “In terms of trade area, I find it useful to look at expanded measures like BEA Economic Areas. Take a look at this data from 2010″:City/MSA/EA/% diffCincinnati, 2.1M, 2.3M, 9.9%
    Indianapolis, 1.8M, 3.4M, 95.3%
    Louisville, 1.3M, 1.6M, 24.8%
    Nashville, 1.6M, 2.8M, 79.2%This is another example of how Louisville is similar to Cincy but unlike Nashville and Indianapolis. The former two have trade areas that aren’t that much bigger than their core MSA while the latter two have much larger trade areas. This doesn’t affect everything, but it does affect things like TV markets. In fact, you see it in the TV market sizes from Neilsen:#26 Indianapolis, 1.1M households#29 Nashville, 1.0M households#35 Cincinnati, 896K households#48 Louisville, 674K households

  • http://twitter.com/ThorIndy Thor Wood

    I recommend speaking factually rather than through assumptions.  Frankly the NFL would NEVER have allowed a Superbowl in Indy were it not a truly great metro capable of such a high-profile event.  Check this stat out- Over 1.1Million separate visits occurred during the Celebration in Downtown Indy during the week.  Try that on for size in your Downtown.  It would never happen.  It would shut down the ‘ville.  Here are some numbers from the urbanophile:

    “In terms of trade area, I find it useful to look at expanded measures like BEA Economic Areas. Take a look at this data from 2010″:City/MSA/EA/% diffCincinnati, 2.1M, 2.3M, 9.9%
    Indianapolis, 1.8M, 3.4M, 95.3%
    Louisville, 1.3M, 1.6M, 24.8%
    Nashville, 1.6M, 2.8M, 79.2%This is another example of how Louisville is similar to Cincy but unlike Nashville and Indianapolis. The former two have trade areas that aren’t that much bigger than their core MSA while the latter two have much larger trade areas. This doesn’t affect everything, but it does affect things like TV markets. In fact, you see it in the TV market sizes from Neilsen:#26 Indianapolis, 1.1M households#29 Nashville, 1.0M households#35 Cincinnati, 896K households#48 Louisville, 674K households

  • Gary bow

    I guess my question is: when are these smart people going to do anything.
    From the outside looking in; they’ve sat on their hands for the last three decades.

  • Gary bow

    I guess my question is: when are these smart people going to do anything.
    From the outside looking in; they’ve sat on their hands for the last three decades.

  • Gary bow

    Mr. Boyd, your comparison of the two cities is flawed at the get-go. The Simons are not or were not the leaders/visionaries you portray. I don’t know much about  the “money/power structure” in Louisville. I will take your word about the Runyon’s, but that dynamic just doesn’t fit Indy.
    The Simon’s are fine citizen’s and civically active, as is Simon Group.

    It maybe you wrote this during Holocaust Remembrance month that led you to a Jewish slant in this article. I can certainly understand that.

    If I was forced to pick one person with the most vision in Indy, that would have been Mayor Hudnut. His famous words “you can’t be the suburb of nothing” still drives Indy’s downtown centric surge.

  • Gary bow

    Mr. Boyd, your comparison of the two cities is flawed at the get-go. The Simons are not or were not the leaders/visionaries you portray. I don’t know much about  the “money/power structure” in Louisville. I will take your word about the Runyon’s, but that dynamic just doesn’t fit Indy.
    The Simon’s are fine citizen’s and civically active, as is Simon Group.

    It maybe you wrote this during Holocaust Remembrance month that led you to a Jewish slant in this article. I can certainly understand that.

    If I was forced to pick one person with the most vision in Indy, that would have been Mayor Hudnut. His famous words “you can’t be the suburb of nothing” still drives Indy’s downtown centric surge.