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Column: What’s in a name? Money, $40 million to be exact


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In the summer of 1997, I was an unpaid intern in the office of former Sen. Richard Lugar. It was a fairly uneventful job. Sorting mail, answering phones, standard summer intern stuff.

Occasionally we’d get phone calls from the residents of Lugar Towers, the public housing high-rise in downtown Indianapolis that had been named after Lugar, a former mayor of Indianapolis.

A few summers before, the residents started calling the office en masse upset that the television in the common area was on the fritz. They naturally assumed that the man whose name was on the building was the man who could fix their television or get them a new one.

As it turns out, senators aren’t much help when your TV goes out, but the residents were apparently quite persistent. I’m not sure what resolution, if any, was ever reached, but that’s about the time I decided not to let anyone name anything after me while I was still alive.

It’s a good rule that has served me well so far, but not everyone subscribes to it.

Assembly Hall, the 42-year old landmark basketball arena at Indiana University where Bob Knight’s championship teams played their home games, is getting a makeover and a new name. The legendary building, considered one of the most iconic home courts in college hoops, will get a new scoreboard, remodeled bathrooms, upgraded HVAC systems and henceforth will be known as the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Indiana University decided to rename Assembly Hall the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall around the same time Cindy Simon Skjodt decided to donate $40 million for the aforementioned renovation. Funny how those things work.

Skjodt is a philanthropist, an Indiana University alumna and the daughter of the late Simon Property Group co-founder, Mel Simon.

Mel Simon came to Indianapolis from New York while serving in the Army and decided to stay. He built his real estate and shopping mall empire from scratch with his brother and co-founder.

How big an empire you ask? According to its website, the S&P 100 company “currently owns or has an interest in 326 retail real estate properties in North America and Asia comprising 241 million square feet” as well as a significant stake in a French real estate company with properties in 13 European countries. We are not just talking about the Fashion Mall here.

Along the way, the Simon brothers acquired the Indiana Pacers. People who know about these things say but for the Simons, the Pacers would have left town or gone under.

As IU President Michael McRobbie noted, “the Simon Family name has long been synonymous with transformative philanthropy.” The family has given $50 million to the Indiana University Cancer Center in Indianapolis, not to mention millions more to other charities.

It makes me a little uneasy to criticize such considerable generosity, but I’ll give it a shot.

My brother-in-law says there’s something a little peculiar about using your inherited fortune to name things after yourself, and I agree. I’ll admit it; I rolled my eyes when I heard about Assembly Hall’s new name.

Other people, particularly Indiana University basketball fans with access to the Internet, also reacted to the renaming. Fan objections seem to have less to do with dismay at the lack of self-awareness of billionaire heiresses than a perceived assault on the dignity and purity of Assembly Hall. The fans seem opposed to any change in the name of their beloved basketball shrine — billionaire heiresses be damned.

“Waves of emotion come over me as I think about how proud my dad would be,” Skjodt said at the news conference announcing the renovation, the renaming and the donation, as reported by The Indianapolis Star.

Yes Cindy, I’m sure your dad, who started out selling encyclopedias door-to-door and ended up on the Forbes list of richest Americans, would be proud. For an extra few million, Indiana University might have even been willing to name the building after him.

Of course, if the new video screen goes out at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, you’ll know whom to call.

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.

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