Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Indianapolis Round Up

I'm back from vacation. Spent a bunch of it in the Michigan Upper Penninsula. What can you say about the UP that isn't contrived or cliché? It’s a great, pristine vacation spot.

And, as promised, I'll report in another post on our adventures at the Mikado Sushi Restaurant in Indianapolis, the night before the F1 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But first, a little lessons learned session between Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Things Milwaukee could learn from Indianapolis:
  • Indy takes the walk/don't walk lights a terrific step further with countdown timers at each light, so you know exactly how many seconds you've got until that don't walk light (and the cross traffic's green) goes on. Gives the walker a good idea whether s/he can make that dash.

  • Indy isn't afraid of distinctive (read: modern/contemporary) architecture and art. As such, they have a beautiful veteran's memorial, a cluster of very interesting looking museums, all intertwined with the Gothic germania of the city's founders.The Eiteljorg musuem of Indian Culture is particulary successful: it blends a clean modernist approach with the naturalism of native american culture. I guess you can't have that many germans running a city and not have at least a handful who "get" Bauhaus. You can look around downtown and pick out the eras, they're all there: goth, federal, colonial, metropolitan, mod. And this Milwaukeean sadly looks at the Eiteljorg and wonders how long it would have taken to get the plans past Milwaukeeans, who piss and moan whenever some building that doesn't look like the Federal Building on Wisconsin or some piece of art that isn't a general on a horse gets proposed. Indy just builds it, and it all looks great.

  • Indy media seems to understand that there are other things happening in their city than whatever big event is happening. There's the downside to this, which I'll get to in a minute.

  • Indianapolis has a Nordstrom's. Milwaukee can just about support a Marshall Field's.

  • Indianapolis has an excellent Jazz fest that, uh, actually features both well-known and obscure jazz artists. It doesn't grow for the sake of growth -- its jazz fest is quality and as previously blogged, gives jazz fans a reason to make the trip. Milwaukee needs to be more confident in niche marketing and take the same long-term quality approach to its events. Look at Milwaukee's Bastille Days -- the more they steer away from just being another "close the streets serve beer and get Barry's Truckers to play a set" festival and embrace the root concept of their particular theme (being French) the happier the businesses, the city and the festival's patrons are -- and likely to return, spend money, and behave themselves.

  • Indianapolis makes the most of their ugly canal by spiffing it up an providing paddle boats for a trip down. Milwaukee's getting there -- the Riverwalk actually has been spiffed up, but we need to make more of our river. A paddle boat ride down that Indy canal should provide rainmakers with plenty of inspiring ideas.

  • Indiana's Children's Museum is impressive -- and is geared to children of all ages. Let's face it, by the time your kid turns 8, s/he's outgrown the Betty Brinn. And don't miss the exhibit of famous Indianians (they're not Indians, what DO you call the plural of people from Indiana?), where you'll learn that not only John Cougar Mellencamp is from Indiana, or David Letterman, but you're also reminded that Kurt Vonnegut grew up here.

Things Indy could learn from Milwaukee -- and they all fall under the title "How to make people from out of town feel welcomed and appreciated." Its like the whole town has everything they need to maintain a solid tourist (and thus economic) attraction and they just don't want to take the extra step to solidify that asset.
  • The whole hospitality industry needs to kick it up a notch. They've got everything they need: excellent selection of restaurants and bars, the workforce, the hotel rooms at every level. But Indy, if you're going to sponsor an event that draws people from all over the world, you need to jump on it. Fine, we waited about an hour to get seated at the Mikado but once seated, there's no excuse for it being nearly an hour before we got our entrees. We learned that people at other non-chain restaurants experienced similar waits. Fine, I'll wait an hour or even two to get seated at a hot dining spot, but as soon as I sit my butt down, I want a fresh drink, and I'll need appetizers at my table within 10 minutes. I didn't order slow-cooked wienerschnitzel. I ordered sushi. You didn't even have to cook it! Then we hit the Hard Rock Café and they had it together. A chain restaurant beat you in service. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Especially with this, the F1 crowd. Granted, the NASCAR rank and file crowd isn't piling in for steak and lobster, but their leadership/owners might be. And the F1 crowd is. Either way, if you have to, run down to Bloomington and bus some starving college students in for the weekend to support your kitchens and bars. It will be worth it.

  • Oh, Indy, Indy, Indy. You have that gorgeous centerpiece of a downtown, that magnificent circle with the statue and all, and it all but closed up by 10:30, leaving us with a Starbucks and a ice cream joint (neither of which had restrooms). That's right, no available restroom in a place that serves jumbo jugs of coffee. (The did, however, have a Sullen College Student sweeping up behind the counter to tell me this.) The ice cream joint had one, supposedly, but it was down the hall in the building it was in, and you had to ask the security guy to escort you up the stairs to it, and he wasn't there, and, and, and, WTF?!?!? Indy, you FORCED me to patronize a chain restaurant, The Hard Rock, just to take a whiz and learn they had their act together. But no, that gorgeous circle should have been lit up and BUZZING, not cleaning up from the car show that went on there during the day. Michael Schumacher had to get up early the next day to psych up for the race; we didn't. You should have had vendors mixing daiquiris, those fire stick jugglers should have been in this circle, maybe a DJ spinning tunes or better still, some winners of some local Battle of the Bands, and the next day you should have had a farmer's market bursting with the bounty of Indiana Heartland Pride in that roundabout. Instead, there's a few strings of christmas lights and a building tarted up to look like an American Flag. At least the fountains were still running.

  • If one were to rely on Indianapolis Media, you'd never know that there were tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world in town for any sort of event. If this were Milwaukee, it would be plastered all over page 1 of the Journal, (frankly, the Journal would be co-sponsoring it), it would be the lead story on at least 3 TV stations -- at a minimum, it would be 15 minutes of lead time with the FOX affiliate, because if you can't count on FOX to give you Happy News and shove real news under the rug, then God Is Dead. But there was maybe a paragraph or two on the front page of the Indianapolis Star, with a reference to the Sports section. Gee, I drove all the way down from Milwaukee (or like the people we sat by, flew in from Lichtenstein!) and we're not news? Is that any kind of way to welcome us? Come to Milwaukee, people -- if more than 15 of you come at the same time and you all happen to be coming for the same reason -- whether its Irish Fest or all of you just happen to be Irish -- Katrina Cravy will interview you, Mike Gousha will do a Sunday Night Special on the Influence of the Irish, WKLH will give you maps and do an "Irish Rocker All Request Classic Rock Lunch", Crocker Stephenson will write some sort of fluffy snapshot of you, the alternatives will put out specials editions of the weeklies to clue you in on where the "real" hipster fans go. You will be deluged with information that says A) We're glad you're here spending money on us B) Here's more places in town you can spend it C) While you're here, why not check out some things totally unrelated to the race but are cool anyway? You may just want to come back! My brother-in-law (a resident of the Indy burbs for over 30 years) pointed out this wasn't just a failure of Indy Media for F1 --all of the races at the track, even the NASCAR race, were largely ignored by the media as anything but a routine sports event.

  • Indy businesses need to GWTFP too. Remember Harley-Davidson? Hey, Indy, come for Harley's 103rd anniversay -- right, some piddly little anniversary not at all anything that Elton John would show up for. We'll show you how to party up the guests for even a "small" event. You'll see high-end yuppie joints with signs out front that say "Welcome Bikers!" You'll see streets closed off and block parties going on. Here we are in Indy, the racing capitol of North America and I did not see one checkered flag motif anywhere downtown. Indy, do you not know what you have? Indy, do you not realize that track is the one reason anybody outside I-465 gives a crap about your town? One columnist in the Indianpolis Star picked up on this, but that's about it. Indy, you have history on your side. Go to Green Bay and see what the locals do with a legendary sports site. Green Bay gets it: why else would the NFL continue to keep a team going in a town of less than 150,000?(And please don't call Wisconsin's Brown County the "Green Bay Metropolitan Area"). All this despite the fact that half the time, the Packers SUCK! But Lambeau Field isn't just "Home of the Packers." It’s the House Curly Built! It's St. Vincent's Parish! Its America's Football Stadium. It’s the reason there's an airport in Brown County. Its an institution.. Indy, you have that track: The Brickyard! The Snakepit! Gasoline Alley! You have the tools, you just need to learn a little marketing. Why aren't there any streets named after your stars? Go to Green Bay, take the Lombardi exit from the freeeway and see this done right. Indy, where's "Andretti Avenue"? Why isn't "AJ Foyt Blvd" on my Rand McNally? And not just your drivers: for chrissakes, where's Vonnegut Dirve or Letterman Lane? OK, there's Jeff Gordon Avenue, but that's not even in Marion County. Sheesh.


Oy, Indianapolis, you make me cry! You have so much going for you and you hardly realize it. You're a lot like Milwaukee in that respect.

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