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SPORTS: Our new playground is much more than a stadium

August 18, 2008

Now, I feel like the unlucky one.

For the past two years, I've been privileged to be part of monthly media tours of Lucas Oil Stadium.

I was there as the concrete bowl began to take shape, and as those steel trusses that would frame the retractable roof were put into place.

I was there as the brick exterior began to climb, and when the concourses were little more than freshly poured concrete and empty spaces.

I was there when the stadium floor was crowded with cranes that reached to the sky.

I was there as it gradually filled in, working from the southwest corner to the northwest corner to the northeast corner to the southeast corner. I was there as those blue seats were installed and the video screens began to flash images

I was there in the mud and the cold and the snow, and then in the dust and the heat and the sun.

Month by month, I watched Lucas Oil Stadium go from the hole in the ground to the skeletal structure to the nearly finished product. Every month, I would marvel at what had been accomplished by that army of workers in the previous 30 days. But I still wondered about the complexity of the task and how it would all come together in that final, frantic rush toward completion.

Now, we are here and it is here. We have both a stadium and a statement about our city's and our region's commitment to the future.

This weekend, the doors opened to the public. One-hundred-thousand free tickets were made available for tours. One-hundred-thousand tickets were snapped up within minutes. Also, within minutes, some of those tickets appeared-for a price-on the internet.

Back to being the unlucky one. Having watched its gradual progression, I won't share the same jaw-dropping experience of those who walked into Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time this weekend. To enter the seating bowl, to try to comprehend the enormity of the space contained within, to gaze out at the panoramic view of the city's downtown skyline to the north through that gigantic window, to be down on the field level and look up, up, up toward that roof to the sky beyond, and, finally, to comprehend what it all will mean for Indianapolis in the days and years to come ... it's all simply mind-boggling.

For first-time visitors, Lucas Oil Stadium is sure to blow them away. That awe factor will continue for years to come, especially as spectators and attendees arrive for NCAA basketball, concerts, conventions, meetings and the multiple events that will take place there.

Make no mistake, the crabs are still out there, complaining about the cost, about what they believe that says about our misplaced priorities, about what they perceive as the one-sided deal with the Colts and the city. They see it only as a "football stadium." They resent the popularity of sports in general, and the Colts specifically. They would have Indianapolis as it was in 1968, rather than what it is in 2008 and what it is positioned to be in 2048. They don't see Indy in competition with other cities.

These are mostly the same folks who belly-ached about Market Square Arena, about the Hoosier Dome, about Circle Centre mall, about Conseco Fieldhouse. They would prefer that we had remained Naptown. Nothing will change their minds. So be it.

I see Lucas Oil Stadium as an investment in our future, another step-a huge leap, actually-in sustaining the momentum and progress that has been building here the last 30 years. I see the positive impact it will have in attracting both visitors and potential residents. I see its multiple uses that go beyond sports. But of course, I also see it as a sports facility, not just for the Colts, but for the repeated Final Fours-men's and women's-it will welcome. I also believe it will be home to more than one Super Bowl.

In closing, I want to congratulate the Indiana tradesmen and tradeswomen who have applied their crafts to the construction of Lucas Oil. Talk about teamwork. During my monthly visits, I was always in awe of how they managed to work with and around one another. I got to know two of the construction managers, Scott Blanchard and Bob May, from another of our "home teams," Hunt Construction. Trust me, these are two smart and capable men.

And finally, to stadium authority Executive Director John Klipsch, on whose desk those 700 million bucks have stopped: Job well done.



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. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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