One statement made by a reporter during the intense moments of the 2013 Indiana State Fair, with plenty of uncertainty about the future haunting livestock exhibitors in particular, was that the renovation project was necessary because the Coliseum 'was following down around us.' On the surface that appeared to be an outright exaggeration and did little to add to the author's credibility.
After delving behind the scenes with Justin Armstrong, with the State Fair Administration, and taking a personal tour, the statement had merit, but was misguided. What was 'falling down,' failing to be more precise, was the power plant that supplied heating and cooling to the structure, and the ability to make ice for hockey activities key to revenue during the off-months when the Coliseum was not used for the fair.
To the average visitor the walls were still painted, there weren't loose bricks that looked like they were ready to fall- nothing like that. Fact is that the maintenance crew did such a good job of maintaining the appearance of the building that they masked the underlying problems lurking underneath the surface. It was the infrastructure of a 1939 building, not the part people saw, that was making the building difficult to operate. The superior job by the maintenance crew was a blessing for fair visitors through 2012, but a curse for those charged with explaining why the building needed to be renovated.
"The first discussions we had were whether to shutter the Coliseum and not use it or renovate it," says Cindy Hoye, executive director of the fair. Those discussions started several years ago, long before the tragedy during the 2011 state fair that occurred in the grandstands area when a temporary stage collapsed in a storm.A good portion of the $63 million price tag of the renovation and Youth Arena project was devoted to the infrastructure, including making the building ADA compliant. Even the classic windows on the end of the building had to be replaced. However, care was taken to make the new ones as close to the old ones in style as possible, Armstrong says. Even the historic ticket booths just inside the doors are being refurbished, although they won't be used for ticket-selling.