Stadium’s flexibility should help attract extra events: But some experts say stadiums are still a hard sell

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Lucas Oil Stadium can be a jack of all trades.

Hang rigging from its ceiling, lower built-in sound-absorbing curtains over most of the seats, and it can host a fairly intimate 20,000-seat concert. Roll out the temporary floor to cover the turf, part and pack away one side of the bleachers, and it can stretch to be a convention hall, boasting 183,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space plus 12 meeting rooms, a welcome plaza and party deck.

But the question remains: Will it sell?

Staging lots of events at Lucas Oil Stadium will be crucial for the Capital Improvement Board which needs to generate money to pay the venue’s operating costs.

CIB won’t get to keep revenue from Indianapolis Colts games, and it must give the team about half the revenue from other events.

Similar revenue-sharing arrangements have become common as NFL teams negotiate for new stadiums, with some of the deals giving franchises the majority of non-game revenue.

That’s upped the pressure on cities to make new stadiums multi-use venues. But often the big plans to lure lots of other events don’t pan out.

In 2005, when New York officials were debating whether to build a retractableroof stadium in Manhattan, leaders commissioned a study to look at whether NFL stadiums have much luck luring non-football events, such as concerts and trade shows. The answer: usually not.

“For the most part, [NFL stadiums] don’t get used for other events that often. It’s pretty minimal,” said Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in destination attractions, such as sports stadiums.

But the RCA Dome, thanks in part to many marching band and high school sports competitions, has a reputation for bucking that trend, Hunden said. And the stats back that up.

The RCA Dome averaged 160 event days per year, according to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. That includes only about 10 preseason or regular-season Colts home games per year.

“That’s way above average,” said Rick Eckstein, a professor of sociology at Villanova University in Pennyslvania who co-wrote a book tracking public costs for stadiums.

When state officials tapped Dallasbased HKS Inc. as architect for Lucas Oil Stadium, they charged the firm with building it for three main users: the Colts, NCAA basketball tournaments and conventions.

In a deal that helped pave the way for public financing of the new stadium, the NCAA four years ago promised Indianapolis an NCAA men’s Final Four every five years through 2039.

“It truly is an extremely flexible venue,” HKS Associate Principal Mark Williams said.

For example, not only are seats retractable-allowing more seats to be rolled out for an NCAA Final Four-the rolled-out seats can be adjusted vertically to create a site line custom-designed for basketball viewing.

Here are the other major selling points for the stadium:

Retractable roof. Especially for band competitions, the ability to have an open-air venue is key to good acoustics. Only two other NFL stadiums nationwide have retractable roofs, and neither is in a downtown.

Welcome mat. Walking in from street level on the stadium’s north end, a conventioneer will come straight into Lucas Oil Plaza, a 31,000-square-foot space that a trade show can remake to be a large welcome center, complete with branding and booths.

Exhibition space. Not only do seats push back to create more floor space for conventions, the north end of the bleachers can split down the middle and be rolled into storage. That opens to an additional 43,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

Meeting rooms. The stadium has 12 meeting rooms with a total of 50,000 square feet. The space can be configured for small or large breakout events.

Loading and unloading. At the RCA Dome, loading booths and concert stages into the space was a pain. Trucks had to drive into an airlock and wait for the room to pressurize. But at the new stadium, semi-trucks can drive from street level directly onto the field or use one of 11 loading docks.

So far, Lucas Oil Stadium already has lined up a variety of events for 2009, from concerts to trade shows to sporting events. The city has 161 event days planned, though some are unconfirmed reservations, according to the ICVA.

The Lucas Oil space, combined with the 745,000 square feet of exhibit space that will be available in the Indiana Convention Center when its expansion is complete in 2010, will allow the city to host multiple large shows at the same time, Bennett said.

But one industry expert said that if trade shows can pick between a stadium and convention center, most will go with the center.

“What they’re saying [about amenities] makes sense, but it’s a question mark as to whether [trade shows] would want to do it,” said Michael Hart, editor-in-chief of

TradeShow Week.

“There aren’t that many football stadiums that are used that way. If I’m putting on a trade show, I can’t imagine saying, ‘I’ll take this stadium over the convention center.'”

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