Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hoosier Lottery Promotes Financial Literacy, I Spit Out My Coffee

The Hoosier Lottery announced today that they're kicking off a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College with a free online financial literacy course. In a media availability event that happened exclusively in my head, Hoosier Lottery Executive Director Sarah Taylor actually passed out the press release touting this partnership. That probably explains why nearly every single article looks nearly identical despite each one being authored by the individual media outlet or a specific reporter.

In an exclusive sit down interview that never actually happened, I asked Taylor to explain how this partnership with Ivy Tech came about and why financial literacy was chosen. After she droned on for several minutes, I asked her if this was her idea of a joke. "Actually, I prefer the knock knock jokes" Taylor said. When asked what part of the financial literacy course covers how to responsibly gamble the meager Social Security check Grandma lives off of away at a local gas station, Taylor reminded me that there's a 1-800 number on every Hoosier Lottery ticket for people who have an addiction to gaming. "Gambling only takes place on riverboat casinos", Taylor said, correcting me.

I also couldn't let this chance pass without asking why the Hoosier Lottery has targeted an aggressive expansion of Lottery retailers and self-serve kiosks almost exclusively in poor and minority communities. And why the media campaign behind the Hoosier Lottery is almost always in the parts of town that could use a lift up. I asked her why the State Fairgrounds electronic billboard screams Lottery promotion day in and day out near a part of town where many African Americans live and what passes for a grocery store around there are usually pimping Hoosier Lottery tickets day in and day out, while the few retail outlets in Hamilton County that sell the Lottery have a lot less flare beside it.

At that time, I was kindly escorted out of the completely made up media availability event.

The Onion might as well just pack on up and move to Indianapolis. Half of our actual news events look like an Onion article already.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Louisville and Indianapolis: Closer Than We Think

I recently went to Louisville to see Ben Folds perform with their symphonic orchestra. Folds has twice paid a similar visit to Indiana, once to play with Fort Wayne's philharmonic and another to Indianapolis to perform with our own symphony.

While there, I only drove by car to grab breakfast on Sunday morning and that's only because I was leaving the hotel. While my view of Louisville was limited, I felt that I found a lot of similarities to my home city of Indianapolis. In some ways they were good, and others not so much.

Similar to Indianapolis, Louisville has a consolidated city-county government that took place in 2003, with the Sheriff and Clerk still retaining their separate roles due to the Kentucky state constitution. Louisville is also the only first class city in the state of Kentucky, allowing the state legislature to craft specific legislation that will only impact Louisville. While our Indianapolis-Marion County Council has 29 (soon to be 25), they have 26 councilors as well as a Mayor. Unlike our system, their council is election so that half of the members are up for election every two years.

Politically, Kentucky has a viable Democratic party at the state level even though the state hasn't gone "blue" for a Presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1996. It has a Democratic Governor who won election in 2011 with 55% of the vote while the last two US Senate elections have been won by Republicans with 55% and 58% of the vote. In Louisville, a Republican hasn't been elected Mayor since the 1960s and Republicans only hold nine seats on the council.

While walking around the city, I noticed several parking meters were bagged under the authority of the "Parking Authority of River City". The authority is a board appointed by the Mayor that oversees the parking regulation division of the city government. The board manages the meters, municipal garages, and neighborhood parking permit programs, among other things. Talking to some of the locals, most of them couldn't tell me when electric meters (which also still take coins, from what I could tell) were installed, but had been there for several years. One resident did note some areas are still using the old coin only meters.

While Indianapolis privatized the entire arm of parking services and management, the city of Louisville owns the meters and other assets but contracts out the day-to-day operations to a private company.

There's a story from the Courier Journal about how Saturday parking meter fees have been allowed for a long time, but only local police could write tickets on Saturday rather than Parking Authority workers. That has recently changed. However, the meters all read 7am-6pm Monday through Saturday. It does not seem like any section of the city gets special meter times, like some of the cultural districts do in Indianapolis.

I also found it interesting how similar their "NuLu" district is with our Fountain Square or Mass Ave district. NuLu is just outside of the heart of downtown Louisville and the area is dotted with areas to grab a meal, a drink, candy, and other kinds of retail, as well as residential and lodging. A street corner that previously housed a maintenance shop is now what appears to be a very hip, very cool looking bar. Many of the buildings seem to have remodeled interiors while trying to preserve the exteriors.

I also came across what appeared to be an abandoned building. Instead of leaving it to rot in the middle of their downtown, they gutted the interior and turned it into what appears to be a playground or gathering place. It wasn't open to the public at the time, but that seems to be a great idea.

They also have a recently remodeled convention center. I didn't go inside, but they did appear to have a cafe that serves beer, pastries, and coffee that seemed to be generally open to the public. But unfortunately, if it was open on Sundays, it wasn't at the time I drove by.

One thing I didn't notice a lot of is green space. Downtown Indianapolis is very fortunate to have several blocks of green space between Central Library and the federal court house between Meridian and Pennsylvania.

I don't want to seem like I'm trying to make a sell on Louisville, because I'm not. There were two things that I felt were negatives for the city.

One was the lack of affordable restaurants outside of business hours. It seems that many of the decently priced restaurants, where you can grab some soup, a sandwich, or your basic fare without ordering a several course meal, closed up shop on Friday at 5 when the workers left for the weekend. Even among the fine dining I saw, many of them didn't open until 4-6 in the evening. The district surrounding the sports stadium had several bars and restaurants open until the wee hours of the morning, but that was about it.

The other thing I noticed is a lot of "For Sale" or "Leasing opportunities available" in commercial buildings. Even in a very commercial corridor with several hotels, a sports stadium, and a Performing Arts Center (along with other landmarks I surely missed or overlooked), there sure seemed to be a lot of empty and underutilized office space. I don't know if that is part of a building boom whose bubble popped, or if Louisville is still struggling with the lagging economy. But it wasn't a very encouraging sign. Surely if a very well-off part of Louisville had signs of hardship, I can only imagine that areas that aren't as tourist and business friendly might be hit even harder.