After decades of lobbying, fundraising, and negotiating, political and business leaders in Indianapolis finally achieved their goal of bringing an NFL franchise to Indianapolis. The Colts? arrival in Indianapolis and their move into the newly constructed Hoosier Dome is a compelling local story with broad implications. The archival materials in this feature tell that story, while also highlighting the nature of civic identity and the impact of sports (especially professional franchises) on communities.
The opening of the Hoosier Dome in 1984 marked the culmination of a multi-institutional effort, involving business leaders, philanthropists, and politicians to expand Indianapolis's sports and convention facilities. Civic leaders sought to use the facility as leverage to attract professional sports franchises (especially football and baseball) as well as amateur athletic events to Indianapolis. Even before the official opening events at the Hoosier Dome in May and July 1984, the structure served as a key bargaining chip in convincing owners of the Colts' National Football League franchise to move from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
Sports and devotion to local teams not only bolstered civic pride, but also justified infrastructure investment. Building upon the popularity of the city's successful professional basketball franchise, the Indiana Pacers, Mayor Richard Lugar announced in 1971 plans for a new combined sports and office complex (Market Square Arena) that would serve as the team's new home and provide an influx of economic investment in the central city. As Lugar explained, this public-private partnership demonstrated Indianapolis "faith in the future" and the potential for attracting tourist, entertainment, retail, and business revenue to downtown Indianapolis.
During the early 1980s, civic leaders continued efforts to encourage development and private investment in Indianapolis by focusing on the expansion of convention and sports facilities in the city. As the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce explained in the first of a series of pamphlets dedicated to promoting its initiative to expand the Indiana Convention Center, such a strategy not only promised enhanced tourism and convention revenue, but also added "excitement" and "pizzazz" to the city's image. The proposal included the construction of a multi-use covered sports facility, which ultimately would become the Hoosier Dome.
As early as the 1970s, civic leaders in Indianapolis had sought to bring professional football to the city. According to proponents, a National Football League franchise would generate at least $30 million annually in direct economic benefits. Mayor Hudnut consolidated these ongoing efforts and in December 1981 announced the establishment of a committee of political and business leaders dedicated to convincing the NFL Expansion Committee to locate a franchise in Indianapolis.
In July of 1982, Mayor Hudnut established a committee of civic and business leaders with the goal of bringing a major league baseball franchise to Indianapolis. In the following months, committee members attended team owners' meetings and solicited league leadership, hoping to attract one of the potential expansion teams to the city. Their efforts did not succeed and Indianapolis remained without a major league team, as it had since the Indianapolis Hoosiers left in 1914.
During the planning stages of the Hoosier Dome project, representatives from Indianapolis met with National Football League officials to assure that the proposed stadium facility would meet League specifications. Throughout construction, Mayor Hudnut's Indiana NFL Committee promoted the stadium as a central component in the city's readiness to host a team. In addition to highlighting their city's infrastructure capacities, Indianapolis leaders sought to counter assumptions that a medium-sized Midwestern city might not have the facilities or the market to support a franchise. Produced by the Committee and targeted at NFL officials and team owners, this pamphlet championed the city's ability to host major sporting events and the existence of a strong fan base and significant television market.
Construction on the Dome began in April 1982. The project ultimately cost approximately $80 million, financed through private and public means, including donations from the Lilly Endowment and Krannert Charitable Trust, private investments, a one percent tax on sales in Marion County restaurants and bars, and sales of revenue bonds. The sales tax covered debt on the bonds.
As part of their efforts to demonstrate the Hoosier Dome's capacity to host professional sporting events, the Indianapolis Football Corporation arranged to host a pre-season NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills.
In early 1984, several members of the Indianapolis Football Corporation (a successor organization to the Indiana NFL Committee) sought to convince existing NFL franchises to relocate to Indianapolis. In a letter to Mayor Hudnut, Corporation president Robert V. Welch explains his view of the drawbacks to this strategy of seeking to "lure the Colts" from Baltimore. He suggests instead that the Corporation and civic leaders continue their previous efforts, which focused on lobbying the NFL to locate an expansion franchise in the city.
Mayor Hudnut reached out to Robert Irsay directly, articulating his city's eagerness to become home to the Colts NFL franchise. Written while the deal was still under negotiation and the Colts were still in Baltimore, Hudnut sought to underscore the advantages that Indianapolis could offer Irsay and his team.
On March 29, 1984, Mayor Hudnut held a press conference to announce that representatives from Indianapolis had reached an agreement with Colts' ownership to move the franchise to Indianapolis.
Moments after speaking with Colts' owner Robery Irsay and shortly before the March 29th press conference in which he announced the agreement between Irsay and representatives from Indianapolis, Mayor Hudnut called his neighbor John B. Smith, C.E.O. of Mayflower Transit Co., a moving and freight company based in Carmel, Indiana. Per the Mayor's request, Smith sent more than a dozen trucks to Colts' facilities in Owings Mills, Maryland. Fearful that the state of Maryland might attempt to seize the Colts through eminent-domain proceedings or delay the move through other legal action, Colts' ownership sought to complete the move as quickly and quietly as possible. Workers for the moving company packed the team's equipment and loaded trucks throughout the night, departing Maryland before sunrise on March 30. Mayor Hudnut was on hand to welcome each truck as it rolled into Indianapolis later that day.
Canceling most of the day's planned events, Mayor Hudnut and his staff instead dedicated the day to celebrating the Colts' recent move from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
On April 2, 1984, football fans gathered in the Hoosier Dome to celebrate the arrival of the Indianapolis Colts. Even in the middle of a workday, nearly 20,000 fans and a full coterie of press attended the event. The team's equipment had arrived via moving trucks just a few days earlier.
Former Deputy Mayor David Frick, Mayor Hudnut, and Colts' owner Robert Irsay raise their arms in celebration as they walk across the Hoosier Dome turf, April 2, 1984. Mayor Hudnut would acknowledge Frick's central role in the effort to bring an NFL franchise to the city and particularly in the final negotiations with the Colts.
Local, state, and federal politicians joined the Irsay family on the platform at the ceremony welcoming the Colts to Indianapolis. Notable attendees included U. S. Senator and later Vice President Dan Quayle (far right), Mayor Hudnut (front row, center), Colts' owner Robert Irsay (to the right of Hudnut), along with other key players in the effort to bring an NFL franchise to Indianapolis. Given the rapid pace of events leading up to the team's arrival, event planners could give the public little advanced notice. Regardless, nearly 20,000 fans attended the ceremony held in the Hoosier Dome.
Reflecting the sadness and anger felt by Maryland football fans following the departure of the Colts from Baltimore, an unidentified Maryland resident asks Mayor Hudnut to change the name of a street near the Hoosier Dome from Maryland to Irsay.
Ceremonies preceded the inaugural sporting event--a college football match-up between state rivals Notre Dame University and Purdue University--at the newly opened Hoosier Dome. From left to right: Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame University; Steven C. Beering, President of Purdue University; Archbishop Edward Thomas O'Meara, Archbishop of Indianapolis; Mayor William H. Hudnut III; P. E. MacAllister, president of the Capital Improvement Board, which owned and operated the Hoosier Dome; Bob Welch, real estate developer and a key figure behind the construction of the Dome and the bringing of the Colts to Indianapolis; and Carolyn Blitz of the Indianapolis Commission for Downtown and coordinator of events surrounding the opening of the Hoosier Dome.
Demand for tickets was particularly high during the Colts' first season in Indianapolis and many who wanted to purchase season tickets could not be accommodated.
Mayor Hudnut announced the settling of multiple lawsuits that had ensued following the Colts' move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Litigation had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, before being settled in March 1986. Handwritten notes in the margins of this document may be from Mayor Hudnut.
Two years before the Colts moved unexpectedly from Baltimore to Indianapolis, NFL franchise owner Al Davis moved his team, the Raiders, from Oakland to Los Angeles. When the League sought to prevent the move, Davis responded with an antitrust suit, eventually winning the suit and moving his team. Angered by the move and unable to prevent it despite prolonged litigation, political leaders from Oakland and elsewhere, along with league leaders from multiple sports, lobbied for federal legislation to establish procedures that required that community interests be considered in the relocation of professional sports teams. Still stinging from the loss of the Raiders, Mayor Lionel Wilson of Oakland writes to Mayor Hudnut, asking for his support of the federal legislation. Mayor Hudnut's reply, indicating his support of the legislation, is also in the Archive.
Mayor Hudnut dressed in a dinosaur costume to celebrate Halloween and a Monday night football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos on October 31, 1988. In their first Monday night home game, the Colts defeated the Broncos, 55-23.
Indianapolis has long been associated with major sporting spectacles, including the Indianapolis 500 race, first held in 1911. A parade has been held annually since 1957 on the day preceding the race. In 1979, former President Gerald Ford served as Grand Marshal.
Civic leaders in Indianapolis continued to seek major sporting events as opportunities to bolster development, investment, and infrastructure expansion in the city, as well as to bolster civic pride and promote a positive image of a dynamic metropolis. In 1987, Indianapolis hosted the Pan American Games, an international event involving thousands of athletes from nations of North, South, and Central America. Opening ceremonies were held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with 80,000 spectators watching 6,500 performers in a spectacle produced by the Walt Disney Company. Twenty-two other venues (including the Hoosier Dome) hosted events.
Mayor Hudnut and other Indianapolis civic leaders lobbied the NFL to hold Super Bowl XXVI in Indianapolis. The city's bid failed and the game was played in Minneapolis. Twenty years later, in 2012, Super Bowl XLVI was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.