Indianapolis Stadium Situation Should Provide a Model for Detroit


Detroit and Indianapolis are two cities with great football stadiums and the design of each building perfectly represents each city.

Step inside Ford Field in Detroit and you can’t help but notice the industrial inspiration behind its design. The windows above each big screen replicate the scene of an automobile plant that can’t truly be appreciated by those that have never stepped foot into one of Michigan’s older manufacturing facilities.

Indiana has a rich tradition of old time basketball played in barn style arenas. The architects of Lucas Oil Stadium took that to heart in designing a facility that pays homage to the state’s hardwood heritage. The new building isn’t the only place the city of Indianapolis got it right, however. The example the Colts’ transition from the RCA Dome to Lucas Oil Stadium is a lesson the city of Detroit would be wise to learn from.

Whenever a team moves into a new stadium there is a stadium left behind. The natural comparison to make between Indy and Detroit might seem like the Lions’ move from the Pontiac Silverdome to Ford Field. The dynamic of multiple cities involved with the Lions move changes things so let’s look at the Tigers’ move instead.

The final game at Tiger stadium was played on September 27, 1999. It wasn’t until September 21, 2009 before the final piece of structure was taken down. Ten years sitting, ten years decaying, ten years wasted.

The Colts moved into Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2008 season. By September 24, 2008, the RCA Dome had been deflated and the building was imploded on December 20, 2008. Work immediately began to clear the site for an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center which is now complete. The first image below is the view of the convention center looking South down capitol avenue; you would have seen the front steps of the RCA Dome had this photo been taken a few years earlier.

Let’s recap: The Tigers moved from Tiger Stadium to Comerica Park and it took Detroit ten years to end up with nothing but a flagpole in a vacant lot. The Colts moved from the RCA Dome to Lucas Oil Stadium and about two years later Indianapolis has a world class expansion to support their already robust convention industry.

Unfortunately, this pattern in Detroit is not confined to stadiums. The Detroit Public Schools opened a brand new Cass Tech High School in 2005 while the old building was deserted. The old building is finally in the early stages of its demolition, which won’t really heat up until this summer.

I don’t mean this as another rag on Detroit article. I have lived in both regions so I know that Indianapolis has its share of problems as well, anyone that drives through the downtown Indy potholes or gets hit up by one of their panhandlers can tell you the same. That being said, Indianapolis got it right with the way they went about replacing their tired stadium and putting the otherwise vacant space to good use. The debates have already started regarding the future of Joe Louis Arena, Cobo Hall and a new hockey arena. Will Detroit learn from the past and take Indianapolis’ example to heart?

[Update] The Cobo Hall project seems to be off to a good start with the plan to reinvent Cobo Arena into a banquet and meeting facility integrated into the convention center expansion. See the video below from the Detroit News:

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