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Fieldhouse of the Future

by: Jack Quigley
In 2017, Pacers Sports & Entertainment (PSE) took on the second-largest renovation project in the history of the NBA with a $362 million investment in modernizing Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Phase one focused on interior improvements and featured new elements such as sideline clubs, retractable club seating, and a new center-hung scoreboard. Phases two and three called for adding a new outdoor plaza and updating the main concourse, Krieg DeVault Level, and balcony.

Phase three work inside the venue was largely completed in last fall prior to the start of the season with work on the outdoor plaza, which wraps up this summer, providing new guest experiences and paying tribute to the rich history of Indianapolis.

Celebrating Basketball in Indiana
Thanks to a $28.4 million grant from The Lilly Endowment to the Marion County Capital Improvement Board (CIB), Bicentennial Unity Plaza will feature two large public art installations that celebrate the 200-year history of the Circle City.

Bicentennial Unity Plaza was created as a celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of Indianapolis and its history. Created by artist Herman Mejia, the centerpiece of Unity Plaza will be a 30-foot-tall, 110-foot-long stainless steel and limestone sculpture entitled “Together.” To illustrate the city’s commitment to unity, “Together” will span the width of Bicentennial Unity Plaza with two arcs that reach toward each other, coming together at a keystone made of Indiana limestone.

The other sculpture, entitled “Sphere,” will explore the 200-year history of Indianapolis while giving visitors an opportunity to interact with immersive LED’s and displays from within the sculpture as well as around it. Standing at 23 feet, 9 inches tall, the height of “Sphere” matches the distance from the NBA 3-point line to the basket. Mel Raines, President and COO of PSE, said the projection system incorporated into “Sphere” is also programmable for special events like the NBA All-Star game or the Big Ten Football Championship.

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Both art pieces also connect to each other, creating one cohesive installation. If visitors stand at a particular spot across Maryland Street, “Sphere” can be viewed at the exact center of “Together,” an effect Mejia refers to as “the eclipse.”

“The two show-stopping public art installations – Sphere and Together – are our versions of the Bean in Chicago, spots where people are naturally going to want to stop, explore, take photos, and interact,” said Danny Lopez, Vice President for External Affairs and Corporate Communications at PSE. “But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The vision has been to make this space inviting and engaging, interactive, and unforgettable. We know when this opens in late summer, residents and visitors alike are going to see it as all that and then some.”

Another $350,000 worth of public art decorates Gainbridge Fieldhouse’s walls of the lower suite level, main concourse, and balcony. In partnership with the Indy Arts Council and the CIB, PSE installed public art pieces that tell the story of basketball in Indiana, the Indiana Pacers and Fever, and Indianapolis’ evolution as a center for sports and entertainment. Raines said PSE outlined stories that they wanted to tell throughout the building, then went to bid with 23 local artists who told those stories through 61 unique pieces of art.

“Gainbridge Fieldhouse is, and pretty much has always been, a living museum to basketball in Indiana,” said Andy Mallon, Executive Director of the CIB.

Some pieces depict past Fieldhouse events such as concerts and other performances, but most are related to great moments in Indiana basketball history. Historic championship runs from high school basketball teams like Crispus Attucks and Milan are showcased inside Gainbridge in a special section dedicated to the history of Indiana high school basketball. Professional championships won by the Fever in 2012 and the American Basketball Association (ABA) Pacers in the 1970s are also celebrated through additional installments and display cases around the Fieldhouse.

“The Fieldhouse has always been known for its display cases. We have a lot of memorabilia from Pacers history and basketball history and Fever history, and we updated and modernized all those display cases so that we can rotate them more often,” Raines said. “The display cases are themed and located throughout the building. So, as you're wandering around before a game or at halftime, you can see all this great history that we have.”

Preparing to Host
This February, PSE staff attended the NBA’s 2023 All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake in preparation for next year’s NBA All-Star 2024 in Indianapolis.

Originally slated to host All-Star in 2021, PSE saw the pandemic-inspired postponement as a blessing in disguise. Raines said the three-year delay allowed the organization to fully complete renovations to the Fieldhouse prior to accommodating this global event for the NBA.

Raines said Bicentennial Unity Plaza will be programmed and managed as a community asset, oftentimes in concert with ongoing events inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Pan-Am Plaza, an outdoor space commemorating the 1987 Pan-American games which has acted as one of the city’s premier outdoor hosting venues since its construction, is set to be replaced in coming years by a 40-story Signia Hotel. Raines said the looming absence of Pan-Am Plaza made apparent the need for another central meeting place downtown.

“Bicentennial Unity Plaza is a very flexible space,” Raines said. “We can host concerts out there. And we're hoping to have a lot of basketball games and host nonprofit and community partner events out there.”

Culminating in the highly anticipated All-Star game on Sunday night, the NBA All-Star features hundreds of additional events taking place over the course of Thursday to Sunday.

“NBA All-Star is a global event, and we're a global, modern city. We want to show that side of Indiana,” Raines said. “A lot of people think of us as the hoop on the side of the barn from ‘Hoosiers.’ And that's part of who we were, but it's not really who we are today in full. So, we want to tell that story to them.”

PSE recently formed a supplier diversity program and tasked Tracy Ellis-Ward, the company’s Senior Vice President of its diversity, equity, and inclusion, to lead the committee’s efforts for the event.

“We want to have a really robust, diverse spend on our dollars for NBA All-Star events, as does the NBA, so we have a department dedicated to that,” Raines said.

Improving the Guest Experience
Gainbridge Fieldhouse hosts on average 1.7 million people and 555 meetings and events per year. Functional improvements to the Fieldhouse will enhance the guest experience by facilitating more efficient procedures for staff and providing PSE the flexibility to host a wider variety of events.

“Operationally, there are things that we were able to do to the building that make it much easier to run,” Raines said. “We modernized our retractable seating systems to allow us to facilitate changeovers much faster, so we can accommodate shows after games that we might have had trouble doing before. We modernized IPTV, so if we're updating menus, and we're going to maybe a Spanish language show, we can put that menu up with the push of a button whereas before, someone had to walk to 200 monitors with a thumb drive.”

‘Fast Break’ grab-n-go markets are now stationed around the Fieldhouse to help create an even smoother experience for visitors. Guests can grab what they want, swipe their card, and leave these ‘Fast Break’ areas without waiting in line or interacting with a cashier.

Other new amenities like the expanded team store, a nursing mothers’ room, and a sensory room for guests who need to step away from the action all go towards creating a more enjoyable environment for Fieldhouse visitors.

“It's a better guest experience from the minute you walk in,” Raines said. “The number of things that we have now that we just did not have before creates a completely different experience.”

More than just updating the Fieldhouse, PSE Owner Herb Simon is investing in surrounding properties to develop an entertainment district around Gainbridge that hopes to rival popular sports venues across the nation.

Simon announced plans last year to build a three-story entertainment complex on Bicentennial Unity Plaza. In March, PSE unveiled the name and logo for the complex, which will be called Commission Row and include an upscale restaurant, a private event space, and a basement-level speakeasy. PSE studied thriving entertainment districts across the country such as Milwaukee’s Deer District and Chicago’s Wrigleyville to see what might work in Indianapolis.

In addition to spacious outdoor plazas, PSE found that newly constructed stadiums almost always feature nearby entertainment complexes like Commission Row to provide visitors with further dining and entertainment options.

“All of this is what you would do today if you were building the Fieldhouse new,” Raines said. “It’s great that we have this space adjacent to the building to add to the Fieldhouse so that we're just as modern and up to date as any building in the country that's being built from scratch.”

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