As I was finishing my Midwest trip, I had to make 4+ hour drive from Cincinnati to Chicago, where I had to return my rental car and fly out of Midway. Thankfully I had a couple places to visit along the way, the great brewers 3 Floyds just outside of Chicago and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Having been to Cowboys Stadium and University of Phoenix Stadium, I was eager to compare the retractable dome peers.
Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008, in between UoP (2006) and Cowboys/AT&T (2009). Unlike the other two, Lucas Oil Stadium was meant to be in a downtown environment, adjacent to a pre-existing convention center. The stadium replaced the old RCA Dome, the built-on-spec fixed roof stadium that lured the Colts and owner Bob Irsay one cold morning in March, 1984.
I had never been to the RCA (Hoosier) Dome, so I can’t speak to its quality as a football venue. From what I could tell, it was much like the Pontiac Silverdome, with a two-deck, football-first layout and air-supported roof. Being in Indianapolis, the RCA Dome and its successor became favored venues for the NCAA basketball tournament, since the NCAA’s headquarters are in Indy and the area is well-suited to handling large events. Indy is also home of the DCI Championships, the national drum corps (marching band) competition.
Like many stadium tours, this one started and ended in the team store. A flight of stairs took us from the street level to the lower concourse level. The lower concourse is split, 3/4ths of it set up in the middle of the lower deck to accommodates suites, while the north end concourse is open at the top of the lower bowl. Throughout the lower concourse are massive sponsor areas for Lucas Oil, Meijer, Stanley, and others. Huge windows illuminate much of the concourse, but the mall-like feel can’t be avoided. It’s better than the awful compromised sterility of MetLife, though that bar isn’t exactly high.
While it has a fairly compact layout, the seating bowl has few cantilevering opportunities. There are columns along the club level corners, creating some obstructed views. The one interesting feature is the press box, which is suspended from the roof above the western upper deck. The view is high up as one would suspect. At the entire press box is along the sideline, not set in the corners as is often the case with new NFL stadia.
HKS designed Lucas Oil Stadium to evoke an old field house, a nod to the team sport the state loves most of all, basketball. Bankers Life Fieldhouse nearby has the same vibe. Neither truly pulls off the homage. BLF already looks rather bloated, so you knew that getting LOS to look right at scale would be a difficult challenge. To minimize the visual impact, HKS placed the footprint slightly off the street grid and turned the stadium so that the north windows face the center of downtown Indy. The effect works when you’re close to the edifice since the façade is broken up into components, but once you see the whole thing with its peaked roof from afar, it’s ruined. There’s simply no avoiding the fact that this is a huge stadium, though at some angles it looks smaller than its peers in Arizona and Texas.
Unlike UoP and AT&T, the roof is designed to open laterally with the field (to the sidelines), not to the ends. Part of the reasoning is that much of the load-bearing structure is built along the sidelines, as opposed to the other two stadia where huge trussed arches carry much of the roof’s weight. HKS did a nice job of not over-emphasizing much of the structural work, which is the opposite of the firm’s muscle-flexing exhibition in Arlington. Again, this helps to reduce the visual scale of the building and largely works. In that sense Lucas Oil Stadium looks and feels more like a really large basketball arena than an enormous football stadium. That says a lot for an industry that has never considered intimacy much of a factor in its fan experience.
One obvious feature not at Lucas Oil Stadium is a museum, or some other nod to team history. There’s a Ring of Honor along the upper deck rim, sure. Despite the team’s general lack of success during the 30 years from roughly 1970 to 2000, there is a rich history that should be better acknowledged. Exhibits along the concourse or on the outside of the stadium would be helpful, yet are inexplicably missing. At some point Peyton Manning will have a statue outside. It would be better if Manning’s tribute was located near plaques for Johnny Unitas, Eric Dickerson, and Marvin Harrison.
Having opened towards the end of the NFL stadium boom, Lucas Oil Stadium is a perfectly good representation of the era and of Indianapolis. It has all the amenities you’d expect and has undergone numerous changes to react to the market. It is also, sadly, the product of a major subsidy from Indianapolis – as is the basketball arena. Indianapolis will always struggle with its big city-small town desires. While Indy will never be a proper big city like Chicago, at least it can be a good host. Indy knows that game inside and out.