Several years ago, the City of Bloomington, along with Monroe County and the state, embarked on a new-era experiment in command-and-control economics. With a "build-it-and-they-will-come" attitude, they designated a greenfield — between second and third streets, hard against the western edge of SR37 and owned by a developer influential at that time in the Democratic Party — as the "Bloomington Technology Park."
Spurred on by a "future's-so-bright-we-gotta-wear-shades" optimism, the city and other government factions poured a million or so public dollars into infrastructure for the private parcel. The excuse? That the "technology park" would source the blooming of a thousand points of new-economy light and bridge the gap between the old bricks-and-mortar world and the brave new world of Web sites and lab coats.
It failed, spectacularly. A to-be suburban warren of what Joel Kotkin called "the nerdistan," a campus of high-tech office parks, lean manufacturing and Starbucks instead morphed into a suburban shit hole of big-box retail, strip malls, an automobile dealership and Starbucks.
It's so embarrassing that even Monroe County's tribute to testosterone, Eric Stolberg, developer and the land's owner, had to look at his shoes when he last asked that the technology park be rezoned.
Rezoned to allow the new vagrant Holiday Inn capsule hotel and attached TGI McAnomies restaurant. When dreams die, they die hard.
Try, try again
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That was on my mind last week when the city announced it was gonna do the "technology park" thing again during a pomp-and-circumstances press conference, attended by a diverse mélange of the community's economic and occupational spectrum.
Everyone, from institutional real-estate concerns all the way to commercial real-estate concerns, was there.
The mayor is delighted by districts, and this one is no exception. Like the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District, re-announced the day before this, the new Certified Technology Park also defines an area. An area into which taxes can be captured, and state and local assistance can be spent, for the sake of the future, on innovation.
More specifically, can be spent on the real estate that incubates and makes innovation possible in the first place.
A great idea
Don't get me wrong. I like the idea. I like any idea that holds out the promise of bringing income into the county, as opposed to all of the ideas that we seem to love that serve to leak income out of the county. Even the first "technology park" had merit, in that we got bucks to flow into Monroe from Indianapolis to build it, instead of the other way around.
But just as it's hard to open a deal, it's often harder to execute and close it. Which is why our first nerdistan became nothing more than another generic Midwestern automotive slum.
I don't want that to happen with nerdistan, version 2.
With a big problem
Certified technology parks are supposed to work by "capturing" taxes generated within them and then only spending those captured funds within the confines of the district itself. Kind of like an iTIF (Tax Increment Financing meets Apple Computer = insanely great).
Only one little problem: taxes only get generated if there's revenue. And startup firms, companies in business incubators, don't really have any revenue, or property, to tax. That's why we call them "startups."
So I'm worried that, unless we're careful, our new technology park might go the way of the old one. Luckily, I have an idea.
The park needs something to actually generate revenue. It also needs something to attract and retain the "creative class" that author Richard Florida cites as so critical for a burgeoning new economy. What does Florida say will attract that creative class?
Cultural and outdoor amenities.
The solution, then? It's obvious. A minor-league baseball park redeveloped on the site of the old Stephens' Honda brownfield. Take that, carlot-in-techpark advocates! We see your tat, and raise you a tit!
We can get it built, and we can use state funds to do it. Think Indianapolis is going to call our bluff? No way. All Economic Development Director Ron Walker has to say, when Naptown says "but baseball's not technology," is "prove it."
Indy will cave, I guarantee it.
The name for the baseball field? "Technology Park," of course. Seattle has its Qwest Field, San Francisco has its 3Com Park. We will have our "Technology Park." Or "Technology Parque." But I'll leave that up to the marketing types.
Think of it. Wireless 802.11 connectivity. Laptop power in every seat so you can just-in-time eOrder your (locally produced) notdogs from Roots and brewskis from the Upland. Business incubator offices that turn into luxury suites during games.
I've already spoken with several small business owners in both the existing Indiana University Research Park, as well as on the other side in the CFC building. I've asked them, all creative people engaged in building creative businesses, what the impact of a minor-league baseball stadium, walkable and downtown, would be.
I.e. if we should build Technology Parque, like a Starbucks opening inside another Starbucks, inside the technology park.
Not a single one has said anything other than that it would be insanely great.
I am not kidding about this. Mr. Mayor, build us that park!
Gregory Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.