Dressed from head to toe in red, Motown-era superstar Diana Ross burst from behind a curtain and began belting out hits Saturday at the opening celebration for Downtown's new JW Marriott hotel.White's comment about Ross being chosen as the entertainment because her appearance conveyed the JW in "terms of class" and somebody that would resonate with the "diverse nature of our guests" is quite laughable. Ross is among the many has-been performers who regularly appear at White Lodging's Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana. Ross made a splash during a presentation at the 2002 VMA awards when she greeted rapper/singer Lil' Kim, who was dressed in a purple wig and a purple-sequined pantsuit minus half of her top, by jiggling her naked breast on live TV. A month after that same incident Ross was back in the news after she was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport for assaulting a female security guard because she said she felt violated by the security guard during a full-body search. She also served a 2-day sentence for a drunk driving arrest in Tucson, Arizona a few years ago.
Ross' performance at the party -- organized for about 1,000 -- was a well-kept secret until minutes before she appeared on stage and wowed the crowd with a series of iconic songs, including "I'm Coming Out," "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "Love Child."
The 33-floor, 1,005-room JW Marriott's opening earlier this month marked the last phase of the $450 million Marriott Place hotel complex at West and Washington streets.
It brought the city the mega- hotel needed to attract the largest of trade shows and sporting events, including the NFL Super Bowl coming a year from now.
But Saturday's over-the-top party was all about thanking the people who helped build the hotel, showing it to meeting planners and celebrating, said Bruce White, chairman and CEO of White Lodging, the Merrillville hotel developer and operator that is the main partner in the project.
Most of those at the party spent the night in the hotel, he said.
Hotel officials considered a list of iconic entertainers for its opening, but they decided on Ross because of her broad appeal, White said.
"We wanted somebody who we thought conveyed the image of the JW in terms of class, and somebody that would resonate with the diverse nature of our guests," he said.
Among those who attended the party were dozens of the city's civic and business leaders, including Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and his wife, Winnie.
Ross was a close friend of the late Michael Jackson and was named in his will as the custodian for his two children in the event of the death of his mother Katherine Jackson. Ross declined an invitation to speak at an L.A. memorial service in honor of the pop star's life in 2009. Ross' absence from the memorial service stunned Jackson's family. Smokey Robinson read a letter from Ross at the service instead. "When Smokey read out Diana's letter, there were a lot of people's heads turning and shrugging in those front rows." In her statement, Diana insisted it just felt "right" to not attend. A real touch of class, eh?
I'm wondering if Greg and Winnie got a free night's stay at the hotel last night. Who got dibs on the three presidential suites at the new hotel, aside from Ross? A friend of mine, who is a frequent business traveler, often stays at Marriott hotels across the country and wondered why his platinum elite membership didn't warrant an invitation to last night's party. It must have got lost in the mail. So much for brand loyalty. Let's see how many of Indy's politicians who received this generous gift from the Whites report it on their statement of economic interest.
UPDATE: While we're on the subject of the world's longest running Ponzi scheme (a.k.a. as Downtown Indianapolis), did you notice the Star finally woke up and discovered all those billions of public subsidies being dumped into downtown projects aren't benefiting the neighborhoods beyond the Mile Square? The Star's Erika Smith has the story on Indy's neighborhood blights:
Drive east out of Downtown Indianapolis, and signs of urban decay are easy to find:Of course it wouldn't be a story about Indianapolis without mentioning the Super Bowl and how much its f_ _ _ _ing legacy project is going to help the city's near eastside. These people are clueless.
Boarded-up houses. Crumbling sidewalks. Storefronts ensconced in security gates. Potholes that will gut a car's underside if hit at the wrong speed or angle. Teddy bears stacked by the roadside as memorials to shooting victims. People selling everything from rugs to baby strollers on their front lawns to help make ends meet.
But something else can be found below the surface: hope.
The Near Eastside -- with its striking new community center, pockets of renovated homes, bike lanes, co-op grocery store and an art gallery that offers yoga classes -- represents, in many ways, the art of the possible for struggling neighborhoods in Indianapolis.
The neighborhood isn't perfect, but it's getting better. Many neighborhoods can't say that much.
Chipping away at that urban decay is crucial because neighborhoods are the foundation of any city. The condition of our neighborhoods -- and the commitment to them from residents who live there -- will help determine whether Indianapolis prospers or withers in the years ahead.
"You know why the Near Eastside is doing so well? They were organized, and they were ready to receive the help," Mayor Greg Ballard said of the residents. "Other people aren't necessarily as ready to receive it as we would like them to be."
Of course, not every neighborhood in Indianapolis is in bad shape. Far from it. But as the city prepares to put forward the best possible face for next year's Super Bowl, visitors won't have to venture far from Downtown to find neighborhoods unlikely to make it on any postcard.
Travel in any direction from Lucas Oil Stadium and within minutes, you'll end up in a neighborhood where blight has set down deep roots.
To the northeast and northwest, neighborhoods such as Martindale-Brightwood and Haughville are dotted with abandoned houses, unkempt lots and reputations for violent crime, even though theft and vandalism are more common.
To the southwest, neighborhoods such as Mars Hill and Maywood are stocked with aging, single-family homes. Massive industrial plants, some shuttered, surround these bedroom communities near the South Side Landfill. Until the city recently fixed the problem, flooding wracked the area when it rained.
On the subject of the clueless, I received a call from a reporter for Crain's Chicago Business the other day wanting to know what I could tell her about our former ICVA chief who recently headed up to the Windy City for a higher paying--much higher paying job. Of course I told her he was a big bag of wind who never stayed in a job long enough to prove how full of it he is. Judging from her story, she kind of agreed. Less than a month on the job in Chicago at his $390,000 base pay job, Don Welsh is demanding a doubling of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau's annual budget from $14 million to nearly $30 million. Crain's Brigid Sweeney writes:
You're a brand-new public face in Chicago, so what do you do after wrangling a 50% hike in base salary over your predecessor?I'm sure as the ICVA goes about searching for Welsh's replacement here, they will make the case that the annual salary Welsh was paid here, more than a quarter of a million dollars, just won't cut it. His predecessor in Chicago was earning a measly $260,000 a year. In the words of P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute."
If you're Don Welsh, the new head of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, you ask for a bigger budget.
“There's no way we can accomplish what we want to accomplish based on current funding,” which is $14.1 million, he says. “We're looking to be at $25 to $30 million.” . . . .
Mr. Welsh is used to thinking big. In 2009, he asked Indianapolis' Capital Improvement Board, which provides about 70% of the convention association's budget, for an additional $3 million to $5 million a year over three years to increase marketing. The cash-strapped board gave him just $100,000 more.
He didn't give up. Mr. Welsh secured two multiyear funding sources, a $1.5-million city appropriation and a $5.4-million grant from the Dean and Barbara White Foundation, an organization founded by Mr. White, an Indiana billboard and hotel billionaire. Together, they effectively increased his 2011 budget to $13.9 million from $11 million . . .
Mr. Welsh’s hop-scotching work history makes it difficult to assess the impact of his efforts. He stayed in Indiana for 21/2 years, leaving just weeks before the expanded convention center and new hotel opened, and held the top role at Seattle's tourism bureau for just two years before that.
“He bailed right when the rubber hits the road,” says Gary Welsh (no relation), an Indianapolis lawyer who writes a political blog, AdvanceIndiana.com. “We don't know if all the investment will pay off.”