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State Fair celebrates a renovated Coliseum

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Kevin Quick , 27, of Fortville, enjoys the draft horse show with his daughter, Trinity, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum. The building, first opened in 1939, underwent a $53 million renovation for its 75th anniversary.

(Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
Kevin Quick , 27, of Fortville, enjoys the draft horse show with his daughter, Trinity, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum. The building, first opened in 1939, underwent a $53 million renovation for its 75th anniversary. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Perched on her father’s lap, Trinity Quick scanned the arena below as a sleek black Clydesdale trotted past.

At 10 months old, Trinity’s thoughts on fair food and farm life are anybody’s guess. But sitting in the newly renovated Pepsi Coliseum Monday at the Indiana State Fair, dad Kevin Quick said he’s sure his daughter’s a fan.

“Her first fair, my 27th,” said Quick, 27, of Fortville. “She loves it.”

This year’s State Fair theme is “Year of the Coliseum,” a celebration of a $53 million renovation fairgoers say took a dated building and made it into a modern entertainment venue.

The Quicks were enjoying the upgrades Monday – their third visit to the fair since it kicked off last week.

“Definitely a step up,” Quick said.

“It was worth the wait,” said Kim Quick, Trinity’s grandmother, who came to the fair Monday with her son and granddaughter. “I love it. I just like the way it looks.”

Kim Quick said she joined a tour of the facility during last year’s fair as it was still under construction. The work in progress held promise even then, she said.

Often, renovations come with flashy changes to a

building’s exterior. Kim Quick said she appreciated the decision to focus the most noticeable changes to the Coliseum on the inside.

She and her family still get the same feeling as they approach the building they’ve known and loved for years, she said.

“You get the effect from the outside,” she said. “The nostalgia is nice.”

The current Coliseum was first built in 1939 to replace another similar building that had been on the grounds since 1907, according to a special historical booklet released by the State Fair this year.

There was such excitement to welcome fairgoers into the new $1.2 million facility that it was decided to allow events in the Coliseum for the fair in 1939 despite the fact the building was unfinished at the time.

That year, spectators packed the 8,000-seat livestock pavilion, paying about $1 to see the nightly horse shows.

The ice rink was also a key feature, providing the opportunity for ice-skating events and professional ice hockey.

Over the next 35 years, the Coliseum was the city’s main concert and sports venue, and it became an important part of the area’s cultural fabric. It was home to the Indiana Pacers, which won three American Basketball Association championships before they moved to the roomier – and less charming, many argued – Market Square Arena. Celebrities from Nat King Cole to Sonja Henie to Dick the Bruiser performed there.

The Beatles, embarking on their first U.S. tour, played two shows at the fairgrounds on Sept. 3, 1964. One of them was in the Coliseum, and the show is a major part of the building’s folklore.

The building also was the scene of tragedy: An explosion under the grandstand during a Holiday on Ice show on Oct. 31, 1963, resulted in the deaths of 74 people. Four hundred were injured. The loss of life is one of the worst in the state’s history.

As the 1970s dawned, the building began to fall out of favor. For one thing, it was clear the Coliseum’s sound system and acoustics couldn’t measure up to competing venues, namely the newly opened Market Square Arena. Over the years, the Coliseum became a secondary venue, playing host to smaller concerts and fewer headline-grabbing events.

The Coliseum, renamed the Pepsi Coliseum in 1992, played host to one last sizeable concert in 2012 in conjunction with the Super Bowl.

Then, it was lights out for the next 18 months as contractors gutted the building’s interior.

The new facility, complete with a spacious lobby, double-tiered seating bowl and state-of-the-art sound system, was unveiled in April, on budget and ahead of schedule.

Many visitors are seeing the newly renovated Coliseum for the first time, though, as it plays host livestock shows and concerts for the fair, which runs through Sunday.

For years, Sonny and Dorris DeWitt came to the State Fair to show sheep. That wasn’t the case this year, but the Greenfield couple still couldn’t stay away from the fairgrounds, stopping by during Monday’s sheep show.

“It’s what we do,” Dorris DeWitt said.

The couple has also enjoyed events at the Coliseum over the years. Monday, the DeWitts walked over to watch the draft horses make their way around the arena.

DeWitt said the renovation was much-needed for the aging facility.

“It was deteriorating, and it needed repaired real bad,” he said.

Monday, he said he was pleased with the results.

“It looks nice,” DeWitt said. “Real nice seats. They’re more comfortable.”

State Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, serves as chairman of the State Fair legislative advisory committee, and while he is not a voting member of the fair board, he was among those who worked closely on the renovation project.

Cherry said the committee worked to maintain the Coliseum’s iconic exterior features while updating its outdated interior.

“It was built so strong, sturdy, … you could leave the walls outside,” Cherry said.

But the renovations were a must, he said.

“We would have to have tore it down if we had not done what we did,” he said.

Cherry said he is pleased with the outcome, adding there’s not a bad seat in the house.

“We have one of the nicest Coliseum facilities in the United States,” he said. “Our Coliseum is certainly a gem that we should all be proud of.”

For many families, the fair brings a chance to come together and enjoy the same activities that have been offered on the grounds for decades.

The Quicks are a 4-H family. Monday, they declared it won’t be too long before 10-month-old Trinity joins the fray, showing animals at the State Fair and enjoying all the sites and smells that come along with the experience they’ve grown to love.

“Passing it on,” her grandmother said.

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