There’s no disputing it –– Fred Glass of Baker & Daniels is one of the good guys. From his work as a Catholic Youth Organization sports coach to his latest big-ticket project –– continuing the revitalization of Indianapolis’ downtown via a convention center expansion and new stadium for the Colts –– Glass is a chronic doer of good deeds. This Glass, it seems, is always half-full. His life, however, is full to overflowing.
Though he grew up in Indianapolis, Glass is by no means the consummate insider. “I grew up out,” he says. A recent feature in the Indianapolis Star about Glass was titled “Blue-collar roots left imprint on board chief.” As the Star piece outlined, Glass grew up sweeping the floors in his father’s “roughneck” taverns. “I would get up in the morning, sweep up the tavern and then hitchhike to school,” he says.
The Glass family was not wealthy, but they were compassionate and civic-minded. It was in the tavern that Fred learned the habits of charity and public service that have shaped his life. Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas dinners at the tavern always included hardluck bar patrons as guests. Anyone needing a place to stay was invited up to the apartment above the bar. His parents were on their local parish council and presidents of the parish parents’ club. “My dad wasn’t much on sermonizing, but his actions were a quiet example,” says Glass. This left a deep imprint on the young Fred Glass. He incorporated it with the teachings of Catholicism and emerged a man dedicated to service, much to the benefit of his family, his firm and his favorite city.
Glass has never lived anywhere else, save for a few months worth of an internship in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Barbara, considered D.C. and Boston, but ultimately decided that “everything we wanted” was at home, in Indianapolis. “I’ve never regretted it. I’ve probably missed some experiences, but I’m very glad I stayed here.” The Glass family now numbers six: Fred and Barbara and children Katie, a freshman at Indiana University; Joey, a junior at Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School; Connor, a seventh-grader; and George, a fourth-grader, both at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic grade school.
This generation of Glass children definitely does not hitchhike to school, but they don’t ride in limousines, either. “They drive old cars,” notes Fred, dryly. “My kids aren’t growing up the way I grew up,” he continues. “I’d like to believe that values are independent of how much money you have or don’t have.”
Drawing from a bottomless well of energy and (seemingly) time, Glass is active in his children’s lives. He has coached all of them in basketball, for example, and not because of any burning Indiana-bred desire to teach proper hoops fundamentals. “I’m not a crazy sports person,” he says. Rather, he does it to make sure that he is a presence in the lives of his children, and of his children’s peers. “I have relationships with all of my kids’ [friends] because I’ve coached them.” This season will be Fred’s first coaching his youngest son, George. “It’ll be cool, because I’ll get to see how my guy acts around his peers,” muses the once-and-future coach.
Making time for all of this is not easy, but long ago Glass decided that he was going to live as much of a balanced life as possible. From 1991-1993, Glass served Gov. Evan Bayh as chief of staff. “We had 60 hours of work for every 24-hour day,” he says now. The only way to keep sane, Glass decided, was to end each workday at 6 p.m. no matter what. “I mean, it’s not black and white. If there’s something that can’t wait, I’ll do it, but the world’s not going to stop spinning if I have to walk out of a meeting,” he says. “My life’s busy. I’m always cramming. Maybe all those years of skipping classes and cramming for the final has paid off.”
“But you know, I worry every day that I don’t have the balance I should have.”
It was while working for Gov. Bayh that Glass met Bart Peterson, who followed him as Bayh’s chief of staff. Peterson would eventually become the mayor of Indianapolis and Glass was chairman of his transition team in 1999-2000.
Since then, the Indianapolis community has continued to turn to Glass for civic help. He has served on the Convention and Visitors Association Board of Directors, the Indiana Sports Corporation Board, the NCAA Final Four Indianapolis Local Organizing Committee, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Dean’s Advisory Board of the College of Arts & Sciences of Indiana University, and as the president of the Marion County Capital Improvement Board of Managers (CIB).
It is in his role as president of the CIB that Glass may make one of his largest contributions to Indiana and Indianapolis. The CIB, which owns the Indiana Convention Center, the RCA Dome and Conseco Fieldhouse, is seeking to expand the Convention Center and build a new home for the Colts. In doing so it hopes to solidify
Indianapolis’ status as the top convention city in the Midwest. Indianapolis is not a tourist hotspot, so its downtown restaurants, shops and hotels depend on business from conventioneers and sports fans. Fortunately, convention business is good. So good, in fact, that the existing Indiana Convention Center is hopelessly undersized.
The proposed Convention Center expansion would almost double the size of the facility. However, the best possible expansion site –– adjacent to the existing Convention Center –– is already occupied by the RCA Dome. The cost of moving to the dome site would be half of what it would be at the next-cheapest location, and would allow the city to build a one-roof, integrated complex. In a business where convenience is everything, the RCA Dome site stands out clearly.
Enter the Colts. “We’re [presently] operating under a lease agreement that we inherited from the previous administration,” explains Glass. “What it boils down to is this: [under this agreement] if the Colts are below the league median for revenues –– which they certainly are –– we have to pay that difference.” The difference as it stands today is an estimated $14 million per year “makeup payments.”
Says Glass: “We had been talking to the Colts, focusing on how to generate additional revenues. Those discussions led, unavoidably, to discussing a new stadium.” The RCA Dome seats 56,000 people, the smallest capacity in the NFL. It is an air-supported dome, something like a giant version of the bouncy houses that often show up at kids’ birthday parties. Anyone entering the dome is hit with a huge blast of air, making it difficult to enter and exit. Though the Colts routinely sell out, their stadium’s last renovation, which cost $23.7 million in 1999, added only a few luxury boxes, not enough to bring the team anywhere near the league median in revenue.
A combo Convention Center expansion/new Colts stadium would benefit the city and its businesses, and would guarantee that Indianapolis would have NFL football far into the future. It would also cement the city’s deal with the NCAA to hold future basketball Final Fours and regional tournament games in Indiana. “We’ve got the opportunity, instead of retrofitting a building designed for football, to create a building designed, from the get go, for both [football and basketball],” enthuses Glass. The urgency to this deal is the Colts’ present lease, which allows the team to leave after the 2006 season if the city cannot keep up its “makeup payments” of $14 million.
All of this is easily digested by the Indianapolis business community. The local citizens are a harder sell. Who, they wonder, will pay for this project? Is this yet another example of welfare for millionaire athletes and billionaire sports team owners?
“Our strong desire is to fund this project not from the traditional revenue streams,” says Glass, “like an income tax or a sales tax, or even a property tax.” Instead, the city is looking toward “what I might call a user tax,” according to Glass. This includes rental car taxes, innkeepers’ taxes, what Glass calls a “visitor tax.” The state General Assembly meets in January of 2005. Glass and the CIB are aiming to have a complete preliminary funding package plan in place before the Assembly meets.
“Our downtown is so vibrant,” says Glass. “I know I’m homegrown and I’m a booster, but this is a great place. Our venues, sports, our hotels, our bars and restaurants, are all in one place.” This, he feels, is the key to the city’s future. “You get a convention here and they love it. They want to stay. They want to come back.”
Though he has never left his hometown, Glass has traveled a great distance. The boy who swept the floors of the tavern is now one of the Indianapolis Business Journal’s 20 Most Influential City Leaders. He has the ear of the mayor, of former governors, of the business community at large. He has attended a Clinton White House Christmas party, thanks to his work as the Indiana chairman for Clinton/Gore ’96. He is a native son turned favorite son, who, unsurprisingly, is able to keep it in perspective. “The only things that are important,” he says, “are the positions. It’s easy to be seduced, to think that Fred Glass is important, but actually it isn’t me. It’s the president of the CIB that’s important.
“I’ve been given incredible opportunities,” he says. “I’m just trying to do the best I can each day.”