City Government and Lucas Oil Stadium and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Indiana Convention Center and Tourism & Hospitality and Sports Business

Stadium walkway carries $10M tab

December 18, 2006

There's a new piece of downtown infrastructure being planned that will span about a quarter of a mile and cost more than $10 million.

It will be built at street level along Capitol Avenue and connect to the soon-to-be expanded Indiana Convention Center. And it will duck underground at South Street and span another 50 yards or so before connecting to Lucas Oil Stadium.

It will be essential in drawing some of the largest events this city hosts: mega-conventions and NCAA Final Fours--the kinds of events that have hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact on Indianapolis each year. It will be a cornerstone in the city's bid to host the 2011 Super Bowl.

Yet few area residents or business leaders are aware of the enclosed connector that will link the retractable-roof stadium to the expanded convention center.

Construction of the connector's first phase is about to begin and will be finished by fall of 2008. It will tunnel under the north end of the stadium and South Street before ascending to an above-ground entry point on the northwest corner of South Street and Capitol Avenue.

Phase two, the above-ground portion of the project, will be completed along with the convention center expansion by September 2010.

Funding sources and the walkway's appearance are still being determined. City officials are working to secure federal transportation funds that could cover a large chunk of its expense. The rest will likely come from the combined $900 million stadium and convention center expansion budget.

The Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority, along with officials from Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Inc. and Ratio Architects, are working on the design.

While there are still unresolved issues surrounding the project, its importance has never been questioned by project designers or city and state leaders.

"This has been seen as an absolute critical aspect since we first dreamed about this project," said Fred Glass, president of the Capital Improvement Board, which operates the Convention Center and will do likewise for the new stadium.

The indoor, climate-controlled connector will also link the stadium to numerous downtown hotels, restaurants and Circle Centre mall via the existing network of skywalks tied to the Convention Center. It will assure that Indianapolis maintains its status of having its stadium linked via indoor connector to more hotel rooms--3,086--than any other U.S. city. A proposed hotel at Pan Am Plaza would also be tied in, which would add another 1,000 rooms.

"Without this [connector], I think you could kiss any chance of luring the Super Bowl goodbye," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports business consultancy. "And the NCAA had a strong interest in seeing this for their events as well."

But the connector's impact goes beyond sports. Organizers for several of the city's largest conventions, two of which have left Indianapolis in search of more convention space, have said having access to a convention center and stadium are paramount to their operating here.

The Convention Center expansion will add 254,000 square feet of exhibition space, for a total of 564,000 square feet. With the addition of Lucas Oil Stadium's 183,000 square feet, Indianapolis will rank 14th in the nation in convention capacity.

"There are lots of conventions that need the broad space of the stadium for additional exhibits or can use the facility for large assemblies," said Bob Schultz, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. "The additional use of this facility makes our city so nimble."

Already, there are 57 conventions booked for 2008 and beyond that will use the new stadium and convention center, Schultz said.

"There's no question this is a big part of our success strategy," he said. "The connectivity of our facilities and their proximity to one another have been a major thrust of marketing our city."

Indoor connections might not be such an issue in Miami or San Diego, but they're essential for a cold-weather climate like Indianapolis', Ganis said.

"But I know even warm-weather cities that would like to have a set-up like the one created in Indianapolis," he added.

There are still design issues to tackle and land to be obtained. Most of the land the connector will need is owned by The Maio Trust, Florida-based railroad company CSX Corp. and the city.

The elevated railroad tracks crossing Capitol Avenue north of South Street are among the obstacles. Designers had considered an elevated connector, but that would have been required to go 25 feet above the tracks.

"That would put it 50 feet in the air, and that just wasn't possible," said John Klipsch, executive director of the Stadium Authority.

So it was determined to put the connector at street level, between existing structures and the sidewalk.

"That's going to make it very visible, so suddenly aesthetics become very important," said Matt Stevens, president of Florida-based construction management consulting firm Stevens Construction Institute Inc., which isn't involved in the project.

Design work recently began in earnest, and aesthetics are not being overlooked, Klipsch said.

"There's no doubt this part of the project has its challenges due to the location of the [railroad] tracks and utilities," Klipsch said. "It might be an afterthought to other people, but it hasn't been to anyone involved in the project."

In fact, the connector was a stipulation many state lawmakers sought before approving project funding.

"The connector is just one more element of this project that shows it's not just about football and the Indianapolis Colts," Glass said.

Taking the entire connector underground was ruled out due to the expense of moving earth and utilities. A moving conveyor system also was ruled out due to cost, Klipsch said.

There will be multiple entry points within the stadium and convention center and an additional entry point on the northwest corner of Capitol Avenue and South Street. Other entry points are under consideration. It is also being determined exactly where the connector will tie into the convention center.

Project planners are carefully weighing the aesthetics and cost of a project casual observers might think is pretty basic.

"You have to remember, the whole idea of this project--the stadium, convention center and the connection between them--is to draw people to the city," said Stevens, who recently published a book on construction management. "So you can't just throw up slabs of concrete and walls of steel. At the same time, you have to carefully balance the needs and wants of a project like this. It has the potential to become very expensive."

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