Just as downtown Indianapolis businesses were beginning to reopen following a nearly three-month-long shutdown due to COVID-19, a weekend of violent protests, looting and vandalism pushed those openings back even further.
Several dozen businesses sustained physical damage, including restaurants, a number likely to grow. Building after building near the Soldiers & Sailors Monument are bandaged with plywood after anger spilled over during three nights of protests.
“We are behind peaceful protests, and back them because it’s a healthy exercise of any major city to go through, but our hearts ache for the people impacted,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice of marketing and communications for Visit Indy
For tourism officials, the outrage of the weekend puts further pressure on an economy trying to restart.
“Our job is to promote and market this great city and drive tourism to Indianapolis,” Gahl said. “There was a lot of momentum coming out of 2019 and going into 2020.”
But Gahl said tourism officials and civic leaders realize tough conversations must be had about race and inclusivity.
“We’re devastated and ache for those in our community, especially in the black community for what’s happening. Not only in Indy but communities across the nation.”
Downtown Indy Inc. said 112 buildings in the central business district of downtown Indy has been damaged.
“The violent actions following lawful protests that took place Friday and Saturday night did remarkable and senseless damage to businesses and residential properties that will take millions to rebuild and restore,” said Sherry Seiwert, president and chief executive officer of Downtown Indy Inc. “What is most devastating is that the businesses targeted with destruction and looting are the very businesses seeking to lift up racial inequities by employing men and women of all races and minorities – but will now be closed for weeks, months and perhaps forever.”
Indy Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Huber issued the following statement on the recent protests and riots in downtown Indy:
“The opportunity to succeed is central to the growth of Indianapolis, and significant barriers including systemic racism threaten this opportunity. We recognize the longstanding anger and frustration that has been building in our city and our nation in response to violent acts against communities of color, and we support peaceful protests that address this injustice and call for change. When reactions turn violent, however, they not only detract from this call, they undermine the important message of the protests, and shift the focus to destruction and injury. Violent acts against fellow citizens and local businesses must not continue.
Indianapolis has proven throughout its history that in challenging times, we embrace our differences and come together to strengthen the ties between our friends and neighbors. Meaningful change must occur to build a truly inclusive economy. We can and will find peaceful resolution, but only if we work together.”
Gahl said Indy has lost 115 conventions and $200 million in economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Damage estimates and losses from the weekend riots are still being assessed.
“While we have not heard from conventions, calling and inquiring about the weekend, we know certainly, like other major cities, people are watching,” said Gahl. “They want to see how we are going respond.”
Gahl said it is difficult to see the damage resulting from the weekend of unrest, following decades of hard work to build up people and places in the community. But he remains focused on helping to find solutions to the underlying cause of the weekend riot.
“Property can be replaced. Property can be put back together. People cannot. So, we want to make sure the people are in the first breath of what we’re doing as a city as we recover from this.”
Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing for VisitIndy, tells Inside INdiana Business how the city must response to COVID-19 and the chaos of the weekend.