The air in the main concourse of Banker's Life Fieldhouse was heavy with gratitude.
Dozens gathered at the fieldhouse Thursday afternoon to celebrate the legacy of Mel Simon, chairman emeritus of the board of Simon Property Group, as Mayor Joe Hogsett rededicated South Pennsylvania Street as Mel Simon Memorial Parkway.
Joined by Simon's brother, Herbert, and his children — Deborah Simon, David Simon, and Cindy Simon Skjodt — Hogsett credited Simon and his family with awakening the once sleeping city
"It's always tempting, I suppose, to look back on our city's history and assume that we were always destined to enjoy the kind of success that we do," Hogsett said. "But as members of the Simon family who are here today can attest, such spirit of inevitability was the exception, not the rule, when Mel and his family set their sights on changing the city skyline 30 years ago."
Simon came to Indiana with the U.S. Army in 1954, when he was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison. After being discharged from the Army, he worked for a time at Albert Frankel Co. before joining with his brothers, Herbert and Fred, to found Melvin Simon & Associates in 1960. In 1983, Mel and Herbert bought the Indiana Pacers. Simon Property Group was founded by Mel's son, David, 10 years later.
At the time of his death in 2009, Mel's Simon's estate was valued at more than $1 billion. The family has made donations over the years to Indiana University, Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health and the IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. Cindy Simon Skjodt, recently donated $40 million to IU Athletics for a sweeping renovation of Assembly Hall, which reopened last fall.
Herbert Simon admitted it took some coaxing on his brother's part to get him to move from New York to Indianapolis. But Mel saw something in the sleepy Midwestern city, he said.
"He kept talking about the quality of life here, about raising a family, about having opportunities, about the good, decent people of Indiana who are straight shooters and everything," Herbert Simon said. "And he was right: This is the place where it happened."
Simon thanked the city for commemorating his brother's legacy and acknowledged that Mel changed many lives — including his own.
"It's rare that one person can change the lives, for the better, of so many people," he said. "Change the lives of the city, one person, that has certainly changed our lives."
Deborah Simon, said her father, like many children of immigrant parents, was a dreamer. But it took hard work to reach success. She, like her father, is a fan of poetry, and she referenced a line from Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If."
"If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!"
It's not every day someone gets a street named after them, she said. "This is indeed an honor."
Jim Morris, vice chairman of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, said Mel Simon's work and legacy have benefited not just the city, but the entire state.
"Mel Simon came here, bringing his family here, bringing the talent that Simon Property Group has brought here, transformed our city and our state," Morris said. "And I am absolutely certain that the Simon family has touched the lives of every citizen of our city and every citizen of our state."
Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at (317) 444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.