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'Quarterback' of city’s sports image: Executive helped engineer Indy's growth into host of national, international events

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Mark Miles in his Indianapolis office Friday Oct, 26 2012. STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON/sroberson@dailyjournal.net
Mark Miles in his Indianapolis office Friday Oct, 26 2012. STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON/sroberson@dailyjournal.net

One has to travel back to a time of short shorts and feathered bangs to unearth the origins of Mark Miles’ contributions to Indianapolis’ growth as a sports center both nationally and globally.

Pinched between the city’s first Final Four in men’s college basketball and opening ceremonies of the National Sports Festival is the year 1981. Exciting times. Uncertain, too, for a region unafraid to dream bigger than its heartland reputation claimed it should.

It’s here Mark, the second of Jim and Eileen Miles’ five children and Indianapolis born and bred, began doing volunteer work as the city braced itself for the 1982 Sports Festival. Seven years earlier, Miles had sat out a year of college to work on Mayor Richard Lugar’s run for the U.S. Senate.

Lugar narrowly lost to incumbent Birch Bayh. In a sense, though, Indianapolis had triumphed for reasons entirely unrelated.

“Staying out of school in 1974 and working for a political campaign was the most impact thing I had done,” Miles said.

“That was eye-opening. It made a huge impact on me in terms of my motivation level. It meant exposure to high achievers. Exposure to deadlines. The ability to compartmentalize.”

And a burning desire to utilize athletics as a means to watch his hometown graduate from its decades-long Naptown status to something of greater significance.

Miles, 59, is president and chief executive officer of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which since 1999 has brought together the heads of central Indiana’s most prominent corporations and universities to ensure long-term growth and prosperity.

He joined CICP in 2006, the latest of many hats he’s worn. Before his current role, he spent 15 years as CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and was executive director of corporate relations for Eli Lilly & Co. during the late-1980s. Miles also led the organizing committee for the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis and, more recently, performed similar duties for the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee.

Appropriately, CICP offices are on the 18th floor of the Chase Tower in downtown Indianapolis, a vantage point like few others in that Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field and any number of hotels require precious little neck craning to see. The stadium was the site of Super Bowl XLVI eight months ago, and the city will soon make its pitch for a second Super Bowl in 2018.

Through it all, successful or otherwise, Miles likely will be part of the equation.

Daily Journal sports writer Mike Beas recently caught up with Miles to gauge his thoughts on the prospect of another Super Bowl as well as the city’s amazing growth through the hosting of prominent athletics venues the past 30 years.

Looking back, why was the 1982 National Sports Festival so relevant for Indianapolis?

People today forget how important it was. It’s the Summer Olympic Games for U.S. athletes. All of a sudden we had to have suitable venues for all the sports. There’s nothing that really prepares a place for that, and there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance.

Is there a sports event Indianapolis is not equipped to handle? If so, what is it?

The Olympic Games. But remember, when I graduated from high school, there was no downtown sports venue. The Indiana Pacers played at the (Indiana State) Fairgrounds, and there were a total of 475 hotel rooms downtown. Where we are today is not indicative of what can be in another generation.

The Super Bowl came off flawlessly. How do you respond to those who say we here in Indiana should quit while we’re ahead?

That’s a defeatist attitude. Having a Super Bowl is a very valuable thing for a city, and if we have the opportunity to do it again, we should. It was as flawless as any event I’ve been associated with. If not having it is someone’s view, then we shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

Much has been made of the people of central Indiana when it comes to our ability to pull off Final Fours, Super Bowls, etc. Why is that?

There are very few places in this country where for 30 years people have come together for a wide range of events. We turn to a group of people that hits the ground running.

Other than the possibility of inclement weather, does Indianapolis have any flaws or potential flaws when it comes to hosting a major event?

This is something that will improve over time, but with the Olympics it’s an issue of hotel rooms. In the short term, it would be helpful to have more top-end hotels on top of what we already have. We can host another Super Bowl without them. We have an adequate supply now. Downtown is going to expand. It really is a question of how we grow. We’re nearing the time where another high-end hotel becomes topical again.

What specifically motivates you to do this job every day?

It’s really trying to make a difference. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always been most invigorated when the difference we’re trying to make was for the community. Being gone for 15 years gave me a better perspective of my hometown. It does mean more to you when it is your hometown.

What characteristics are most important for having the job you have?

You’ve got to have a very clear sense of what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ve got to have the strength and conviction to deliver on that. There’s the vision, and then there’s the belief in it. And you have to be able to communicate clearly with people so that they trust you. Seeing the whole kind of chess board, and, frankly, you have to work harder than everyone else. You have to be committed and be in the trenches at the same time.

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