For 10 days last winter, Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis was the epicenter of Super Bowl festivities.
Mobs of people swarmed the revamped corridor for concerts, games and food. The 95-foot-high zipline zoomed over it, and it funneled directly to the NFL Experience, which more than 750,000 people visited.
Indianapolis tourism officials see Georgia Street as a regional attraction that can be used to draw more and more people to the city. But maintaining the momentum started by the Super Bowl has been a challenge, said Melissa Thompson, manager of Georgia Street for Indianapolis Downtown.
“Managing expectations has been a big part of the job,” she said. “We’ve had to figure out what works well in that space on a regular basis. Since it is a city street, with restaurants, residents and businesses using it, it has to fit in with what’s going on on a daily basis.”
Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, city leaders spent $12.5 million refurbishing and upgrading the three-block stretch in downtown Indianapolis. A pedestrian walkway with landscaping and benches was installed in the center of the street, with paved-brick lanes for traffic on either side.
Modern lighting and heat lamps were installed over the top. Roman shades help provide shade in the heat of day.
“Part of what makes it a great asset is that it’s so different. It’s not just another city street. You almost feel like you’re not in the middle of downtown,” Thompson said.
After the Super Bowl, the space was leased by the city of Indianapolis to Indianapolis Downtown, which markets the city. The organization will manage Georgia Street for one-and-a-half years, then revisit how well the arrangement is working.
Indianapolis Downtown has contributed $1 million to its upkeep, while the city provided another $1 million.
Officials have budgeted more than $250,000 to stage events along the corridor.
Event planners rented out the area for private parties. Every second Thursday of the month, they featured live music, beanbag toss games, drink vendors and appearances by Indianapolis Colts or Indiana Pacers cheerleaders.
During the Indianapolis Colts’ home games, they closed the street to host a tailgate party. Food truck festivals have become common.
The most successful events were built around previously planned activities that already brought people downtown.
“A big convention, big games, big concerts — that’s when it’s been best to activate that space,” Thompson said.
Georgia Street connects three of Indianapolis’ most visited and recognizable attractions — Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Circle Centre mall and the Indiana Convention Center. A variety of bars and restaurants sit on the street
Part of the effort has focused on adding outdoor seating at those establishments, Thompson said.
“Our goal was to make it a vibrant place that would attract more people,” she said.
Nearby places such as Kilroy’s, Howl at the Moon and Harry and Izzy’s built outdoor cafe seating to add to the atmosphere of Georgia Street. The Tilted Kilt is working on its own patio and hopes to replace its existing windows with ones that can be raised in warm weather.
“We get a lot of business from people walking between the convention center and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, so it helps not only when they’re having an event but whenever anything big is going on downtown,” said Crystal Rightor, marketing director for the Tilted Kilt. “It’s fun to be right along that route.”
After running Georgia Street for a year, Indianapolis Downtown officials feel they have a better idea of how to best use the corridor in the future. The focus will be mixing small activities, such as tailgate parties or after-work mixers, with large-scale events that use the entire three-block space.
A two-day St. Patrick’s Day festival, complete with Celtic music, drink tents and Irish food, is in the works for March. Organizers also are putting together a family-focused event in May and celebrations around the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas.
“It’s so different than anything else downtown. It’s nice to just hang out, or you can turn that space around quickly and make it a party place,” Thompson said.