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Ind. fairgrounds arena project ahead of schedule

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana State Fair officials are expecting to open the renovated Fairgrounds Coliseum in April, three months ahead of schedule.

The 75-year-old arena has been shut down since October 2012 for a $63 million project that included gutting the interior in order to build two-level seating for 8,200 people and install a video scoreboard and new lighting and sound systems.

Organizers plan on celebrating the renovation project by dubbing this summer’s state fair the “Year of the Coliseum.”

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the renovation gives the arena more flexibility so that it can host additional events.

“It’ll be key in keeping everybody happy, bringing more events to town that maybe would’ve skipped Indianapolis,” Klotz told The Indianapolis Star.

The renovation’s completion will mean a return of headlining concerts to the state fair, scheduled for Aug. 1-17. Concerts had been held at the outdoor grandstand until 2011, when stage rigging collapsed during a storm at a Sugarland show, killing seven people and injuring dozens more.

The renovated coliseum also will be the home for IUPUI’s basketball teams and the new Indy Fuel minor league hockey team.

The renovation preserves touches of the 1939 arena. Its exterior looks the same after a little sprucing up – new windows in the same glass block style and shape. The old steel girders hold up the structure, and crews built a new 9-foot wall in the same circle around the arena floor for draft horse competitions.

The expanded front lobby will have similar terrazzo floors. The original ticket window grilles will decorate the lobby. A lower section of seats will be restored to original condition.

“People will be amazed by the renovation,” state fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye said. “It retains the building’s historic and iconic feel, and the natural lighting inside the arena is incredible, just like it was when it originally opened in 1939.”

Last year, the state fair unveiled a new $10 million Youth Arena, which was part of the coliseum renovations. The Youth Arena will continue to be used this year, Klotz said, for events such as the 4-H horse and pony contests, which draw smaller crowds.

“It was a very functional arena that also made it a little more lively because it was a more intimate setting,” Klotz said.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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