The concept was this: Design a multi-use arena that would capture the essence of Indiana basketball, yet equip it with the amenities a new generation of spectators desired.
Thus, on November 6, 1999, with many of the greats of the Hoosier game on hand, Conseco Fieldhouse opened its doors and ushered in a new era as an entertainment venue that still proclaimed “basketball” at every turn of the corner.
And over the intervening 20 years, the Fieldhouse – now Bankers Life Fieldhouse – has been everything its visionaries and architects hoped.
Foremost, in both local and national commentary, it was instantly lauded as the finest basketball venue in the country. From the spectator sightlines to the iconic Entry Pavilion to the dozens and dozens of display cases, pictures and memorabilia, the Fieldhouse has been more than a place to play basketball.
It was – and is – a place to cherish the game and recall the lore and legend of our beloved Hoosier Hysteria.
Perhaps not as apparent at the time, but certainly within concepts of what this new building needed to be, was its multiplicity of uses.
For starters, think swimming pools (installed for the 2004 World Short Course Championships) and go from there.
Or beach volleyball. Auto races. Tennis. Roller derby. Go-karts. Horse shows. The circus. The rodeo. One night there would be an arena football game (remember the Indiana Firebirds?). The next night would be hockey (remember the Indianapolis Ice?). There has been big-time WWE rasslin’ and high school wrestling. National conventions, Presidential addresses, high school graduations and sometimes, the somber occasion of services for a fallen public safety hero.
Concerts across the music spectrum – rock, metal, country, soul, R&B, hip hop, gospel, holiday – from virtually every big-name act of the past two decades. Religious gatherings. Charity fundraisers. And the list goes on … and on … and on.
In the 20 years since the Fieldhouse opened, it has hosted 3,777 ticketed events, which is an average of slightly less than 190 per year.
Add in the hundreds of non-ticketed meetings, events and charity breakfast, luncheon and dinner fundraisers that also take place, and the sum is that the Fieldhouse is Indiana’s most widely used public building.
But back to its essence: basketball.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse is host to the game at every level. The Indy Parks recreational leagues play their championship games in the Fieldhouse. Kids and youth groups play “Court of Dreams” contests on the days of Pacer and Fever games. The Indiana State High School Athletic Association plays its eight girls and boys state title games in the Fieldhouse. It has become home to college and NCAA events, including the Women’s Final Four, men’s regionals, the Big Ten women’s and men’s basketball tournaments, the Crossroads Classic doubleheader and the ESPN State Farm Classic doubleheader. It hosted the 2002 World Basketball Championship.
Consider this: In one astounding (yet not totally atypical) stretch in 2016, Bankers Life Fieldhouse hosted 54 Pacers, college, high school and youth basketball games in 43 days. And if that weren’t amazing enough, the Fieldhouse also worked three concerts into the other days.
Beyond that, the Fieldhouse has helped changed a neighborhood. Recent years have seen the development of the southwest quadrant of downtown with Anthem and Indiana Farm Bureau office headquarters, the CityWay residences, The Alexander and Hyatt Place hotels, the St. Vincent Center, the Irsay Family YMCA, another health center, a new pharmacy, multiple restaurants, a new park on the Eli Lilly campus and the Cultural Trail leading to the dynamic activity taking place in Fletcher Place and Fountain Square.
As with every project of the size and scope of a multi-use arena, the initial proposal for a fieldhouse to replace Market Square Arena was greeted with some skepticism. Some critics wanted to know why a 25-year-old arena couldn’t easily last another 25. Some wanted to know if suites and luxury boxes, lacking at MSA, were a necessity the fan base would support.
Twenty years later, and as we prepare to make the Fieldhouse the “Fieldhouse of the Future” with interior and exterior improvements that will last at least another 20 years, we have our answers.
The fieldhouse of then, the fieldhouse of today and the fieldhouse of tomorrow retains its iconic place in our city’s and state’s modern history. Built for basketball, yes, but built for us all to make memories across the spectrum.
It’s been a grand 20 years. More to come.