SPORTS: 'The Luke' and its potential are finally real to us

March 24, 2008

And in less than five months-if, as we used to say in Center Grove, the Good Lord's willing and the cricks don't rise-it no longer will be just that mammoth structure rising between West and Missouri streets.

It will be ours, and in that personal pronoun, I mean, sincerely, that Lucas Oil Stadium will belong to all of us, not just residents of Indianapolis and the contiguous counties who have pitched in on the funding, but to all Hoosiers who will find their way to its doors and share in the pride that will accompany its opening.

And yes, there will be pride, the same kind that was felt and enjoyed when the doors opened at Market Square Arena, the Indianapolis Sports (Tennis) Center, the IU Natatorium, the Michael Carroll Track & Field Stadium, the Hoosier Dome, Victory Field and Conseco Fieldhouse.

True, the critics of this $675 million project will never be mollified. No arguments or legitimate debate will convince them that The Luke is anything more than a colossal monument to misplaced priorities.

So be it. The stadium will nonetheless open-and is expected to do so on time and within budget-sometime early to mid-August, strategically positioning and strengthening central Indiana as a region on the move, both in the present and deep into the future.

This past week, I was part of a monthly media tour of The Luke. And though I've been on most of these tours over the past 18 months or so, this time-for the first time-it really seemed to hit home that we're but 150 days or so from welcoming the public.

Where once there were eight giant cranes clogging its interior, there now is but one. The stadium is increasingly blue, with more than a third of the 63,000 permanent seats installed, excluding the seats in the upper north end zone area that will be white in the shape of the Indianapolis Colts' horseshoe. I envision that the fans who have those seats will quickly determine that they need to wear white and thus keep the horseshoe visible even when the stands are full.

In what is certain to be a milestone moment, the retractable roof is expected to close within the next month. Meanwhile, almost half the concrete floor has been poured, and most of the rest should be completed within 45 days.

The enormous sliding glass window that displays the city's skyline to the north is all but framed.

In the concourse areas, especially on the west side, concession stands-once cleansed of the layers of dust-are essentially ready to start serving and pouring. Rest rooms await the first of what will ultimately be millions of flushes.

The suites have largely been shed of the plywood that protected them from the winter elements. Carpet-featuring horseshoes-has been laid, cabinets and plumbing installed, lighting and ceiling tiles in place.

My mind is boggled (even more than usual) by the enormity and complexity of the task. Eight hundred workers-the vast majority of them being Indiana laborers-swarm the facility daily. How they keep track of who and what goes where is far beyond my meager comprehension. If the Colts could muster this kind of teamwork and preparation-not to mention talent-they would win the next eight Super Bowls. And as the weather warms, and that roof closes, the force will swell, only to leave behind construction debris that will begin to be cleaned up fully two months in advance of the opening. Windex and Pledge, anyone?

In five months, the Colts will play a preseason game there. In September, country star Kenny Chesney-Peyton Manning's pal-will play The Luke's first concert. A year from now, it will welcome an NCAA tournament regional. Two years from now, the Men's Final Four-with a seating configuration for 70,000-will take place. And, if we're as lucky as we are good, the NFL owners will do the right thing and send the 2012 Super Bowl our way.

Yes, it's the Colts' stadium. Only it will be so much more. Concerts, conventions, trade shows, meetings, band competitions, motocross, monster trucks, religious gatherings-you name it. The Luke's uses will be as limitless as the imagination.

Moments and memories are in the making. I can't wait.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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