How's this for irony? The state's nowscuttled plans to raze N.K. Hurst Co.'s headquarters to make way for Lucas Oil Stadium parking would have paved over a long-standing Colts game-day tradition.
The Indianapolis-based bean company has hosted Colts tailgate parties before every home game since the 1980s. Its McCarty Street parking lot-known as Hurst Bean Field-is a short stroll from the RCA Dome and in the shadows of the Colts' new home, making it a hit with tailgaters.
"It's a great time and we feel very fortunate to be where we are," said company President Rick Hurst, a devoted Colts fan. "We wanted to create something that wasn't just a place to park your car and go into the game. Tailgate fans are really just here to have a good time and so that's what we're trying to provide them-it's a place to do that."
Originally, N.K Hurst Co. didn't charge tailgaters for parking in the lot, but the company instituted a $3 per-vehicle fee in 1985 to discourage rowdy, messy fans.
"When we started to charge, they were not unruly and they picked up their trash," Hurst said.
Then it just became good business, he said. The company got free publicity from tailgating clubs like Colts Power, which instructed members to go to its lot. Hurst Bean Field has room for about 200 cars and several RVs.
Jersey Johnny, a disc jockey at WIBCAM 1070, brings contest winners to the company's lot and the radio station broadcasts its pre-game show from there. Since the contests are regularly promoted on the radio station, the Hurst name is, too.
"In Indianapolis, I think we've become more notable; people actually know where we are now," Hurst said.
In 1995, the parking charge increased to $5 and last year it climbed to $10, with half given to New Orleans hurricane relief, said N.K. Hurst Vice President Tony Snider.
Hurst tailgaters also have collected toys for the Salvation Army, canned food for Gleaners Food Bank and, this month, participated in a "Count the Beans" contest to benefit United Way of Central Indiana.
For $5, fans could guess the number of blue-and-white beans in a 4-foot-tall plastic bin; more than 500 guesses and $875 later, one of them won two tickets to the 2008 season opener, pre-game field passes from the Colts, and two prime Hurst Bean Field spots before the game.
This year, season-long reserved spots sold for $240 per car and $480 per RV so tailgaters can come and go as they please. The spots sold out in July and the waiting list for the 2008 season is already a few hundred fans long.
"We've been having tailgating parties since the '80s, but with the advent of the new stadium, especially last year after construction started, it just exploded," Hurst said.
Not your average tailgate
The company doesn't profit from the parties, Hurst said, because it uses parking fees to pay for 24-hour security and to sponsor other tailgating activities.
"There are 66,000 parking spaces in downtown Indianapolis," he said. "There are many different places you can tailgate. We try to attract [Colts fans] and kind of make it a novel location."
Hurst hired bands like River County and Duke Tumatoe to play pre-game concerts on the company's loading dock. On Nov. 18, the company also is having a Hurst Bean Soup Cookoff. These events are what Rick Hurst calls "all part of the spirit of tailgating."
"Tailgating's all about the food and the fun," he said.
Mark Roman has been tailgating at the Bean Field for four years. He drives from Terre Haute each home game with about 20 friends in his blue-and-white Colts school bus, complete with matching reupholstered seats, surround sound and a couple of flat-panel TVs.
"It's nice having a [reserved] spot," he said. "We don't have to race for it, but we still get here before everybody else."
Besides the easy access to the interstate, Roman said, the atmosphere of the lot keeps him and his tailgating gang coming back.
"It's a good group of people," he said. "Rick Hurst takes real good care of us here."
The smoky aroma of grilled brats, hot dogs and burgers flowing through Hurst Bean Field is enough to make any fan drool. The lot is dotted with blue and white tents, cornhole games, fold-out chairs and bright blue coolers stocked with plenty of cold drinks.
The clean environment of Hurst Bean Field is family-friendly, which makes it different from other tailgating sites, said Craig Chestnut, a four-year Bean Field tailgater from Indianapolis.
"It might not be as crazy as some of the other lots, but we still have a good time," he said. "Everybody here is kind of like family."
Hurst Bean Field is even featured on the Colts' Web site. Colts fan Zack Legend videotapes tailgate parties there before every home game and broadcasts his videos at Colts.com. He discovered the Hurst lot last season when driving around Indianapolis looking for a game-day parking spot and has "been in love with it ever since."
"[The Bean Field] has the most beautiful view of the Lucas Oil Stadium; there's very convenient parking and such a broad spectrum of people that come together and have fun," he said. "It's almost like a second family."
Pavement or parties
None of these afternoons of barbecue and blue-and-white jerseys would be possible if the Indiana Stadium Convention Center Building Authority had successfully seized the property through eminent domain. The 101-year-old building and its 4.3 acres of land would have become stadium parking, leaving the faithful tailgaters searching for another lot.
The dispute lasted for months before the Hursts, not wanting to move from the building the family business has called home since 1948, came to a compromise with the city in April 2006, selling 1.7 acres to the building authority for $1.97 million.
"That was a tough deal, but it's over and behind us," Hurst said. "We enjoy our location and we hope everybody else does, too. I think we're doing things that the Colts will look upon very favorably."
Since the lawsuit, Hurst said, he has not had any negative encounters with the building authority and has even had some of its members stop by during parties, though he wouldn't say who.
The company is just fortunate to be able to enjoy its business in the heart of Indianapolis, Snider said.
"We're just happy to be here, 400 feet from the stadium," he said.