Beyond The Grudge


William H. Hudnut III, the Indianapolis mayor who lured the Colts from Baltimore, is now an urban expert living in Maryland who says the two cities have a lot in common


William H. Hudnut III

January 14, 2007|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Sun Staff

In Baltimore, William H. Hudnut III is known for one thing - he was the mayor of Indianapolis who took the Colts.

But elsewhere, Hudnut is widely respected as a visionary thinker on urban issues.

Indeed, though Maryland's retiring state comptroller would probably not like the comparison, it could be said the Hudnut is the William Donald Schaefer of Indianapolis.

Schaefer, of course, was the Baltimore mayor who not only developed Harborplace and conducted the Inner Harbor Renaissance, but lost the Colts to Hudnut's Indianapolis. Reportedly, he holds a grudge.

Hudnut has been a Maryland resident for a decade, working for the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, where he is the Joseph C. Canizaro senior resident fellow for public policy.

It's not the first time Hudnut has lived in the state. A Princeton graduate who went on to Union Theological Seminary in New York, Hudnut was minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis from 1960 to 1963.

"I used to come up to Baltimore to watch the Orioles at Memorial Stadium," he says.

Later, during his one term in Congress in 1971-1973, he played on that field in a pregame match between Republican and Democratic congressional teams.

Hudnut was mayor of Indianapolis from 1976 to 1991. After that, he worked for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis and the Civic Federation of Chicago before arriving in Chevy Chase in 1996.

Hudnut says it was his theological training that got him into public service.

"My father used to have this saying that some Christians were so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good," he said last week, before the Colts and Ravens faced off in the playoff game. "I always felt that part of the whole of biblical ethics, in both the Old and New Testaments, was to be involved in the affairs of a community, to do something by way of giving back to a community."

Hudnut says that's the reason he served six years on the town council of Chevy Chase, including two as mayor.

"I thought I should give something back to the state of Maryland, since I had taken something away," he says. Do you see the parallels between Baltimore and Indianapolis, other than the fact both absconded with other cities' NFL teams?

I think a lot of cities east of the Mississippi were all facing problems of urban disinvestment and abandonment. All of them were dealing with this in whatever way they can. It's a line that goes from Chicago and Gary, Ind., to Cleveland, down to Pittsburgh and across the country to Baltimore, to Philadelphia on up the East Coast, perhaps even across the ocean to some cities in England.

There are parallels between Indianapolis and Baltimore. We built a stadium for football which was tied into our convention center. Maryland built you a couple of stadiums. Both of us were trying to use sports to leverage economic development opportunities.

I tend to feel that economic opportunity is the most important thing we can emphasize in the struggle to alleviate poverty. It's a very difficult transformation to the information-based economy from the one based on the big steel mills that have shut down. In Indianapolis, we had a lot of automobile manufacturing that closed. In 1983, I think it was, Indianapolis was told by AT&T that they were going to close their Western Electric factory where all the Princess telephones were made. That was 1.8 million square feet. 8,700 jobs. We scrambled around and finally found somebody else to occupy the building, but that is hard on a city to lose 8,700 jobs.

I think we also have similar lingering problems. How shall I put it? We both have neighborhoods in need of repair. Joel Kotkin [author of The City: A Global History] has called Baltimore a Potemkin city, meaning the revival is just a facade. I'm not sure I agree with that.

I was up in Baltimore in April, giving a speech on historic preservation, and I saw that theater, the Hippodrome, that is the centerpiece of that west side area's redevelopment. We did that in Indianapolis, rehabbed a theater downtown and made it the home of the Indianapolis Symphony.

So there are similar ways in which we are tying to trigger downtown investment and reinvestment. If cities like Indianapolis and Baltimore lost their manufacturing, haven't they lost one of their main reasons for existence, to gather together a labor force to work in those factories? And doesn't that mean they have to find a new reason to exist?

Storm Cunningham, who wrote The Restoration Economy, says that this will be the "re-century," the century of things like reinvention, redevelopment, reinvestment. In building, restoring and renewal are going to be as important as new construction. Housing rehabilitation is an area where I think there is going to be quite a bit more activity as the century unfolds, as the younger generation comes along and wants smaller housing, not the McMansions of the baby boomers. The emphasis will be on downtown reinvestment.

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