City has plans for future of Georgia Street

The city has plans to utilize Georgia Street all year long.
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The city hopes the new year brings new interest in its newest venue.

The three-block stretch of Georgia Street between Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center was a big hit during Super Bowl XLVI.

The city spent $12.8 million revamping it for the big game, adding a boardwalk, new lighting and landscaping. As the heart of Super Bowl Village, Georgia Street drew hundreds of thousands of people.

But since then, it's been a challenge not just getting people down there, but figuring out how to best utilize the venue.

"They probably could have more going on. I think if things were advertised more, it may be more successful," Natalie Griffin said.

"I've not seen a lot of big events. For all the money they put in, they could have done more with it," Sara Rodewald added.

Indeed, when the city first announced plans for redoing Georgia Street, they pitched it as an outdoor venue sure to become a popular year-round destination.

But it has been a bit of a rough road getting there. Construction took longer than expected, hurting several business owners who had limited access.

And after the heavy wear and tear of the huge Super Bowl crowds, the city had to spend an extra $300,000 on repairs and upgrades.

Initial plans for kiosks and a boardwalk café haven't yet materialized and, at times, the venue has become an unintended gathering place for homeless people.

More than anything, though, Georgia Street hasn't become the destination many bars there envisioned, even with events like Second Thursdays, which were started in August to drum up interest.

Steve Kelly, a manager at Kilroy's, said while they expect big crowds during the Big Ten football championship next month, Georgia Street "needs to be a draw for events, not just Second Thursdays. We need events that bring people to Georgia Street. It's a great space, like a big outside banquet hall."

Melissa Thompson agrees. She's with Downtown, Inc., which won the contract to manage, maintain and market Georgia Street in a budget of $2 million for 18 months.

Thompson said Second Thursdays have "kind of been an experiment" to see what works in getting people to Georgia Street, admitting, "It's more of a challenge than we thought it would be."

A couple hundred people showed up to hear two live bands Thursday night (November 8).

Bar and restaurant owners haven't exactly been thrilled with some of the changes, most notably being charged an average of $1,600 a year to "lease" patio space for sidewalk cafes along Georgia Street. Other bar and restaurants downtown simply pay a permit fee.

Thompson said she's in the process of reworking the lease agreements to address the concerns. Despite the challenges, she said she's still excited about the future of Georgia Street.

So far, she's booked six events along Georgia Street next year for outside vendors, plus another 6-15 events Downtown Inc, hopes to host on its own.

"It's not a goal of making money off it," she said. "We want to cover the costs and make it a place where people want to come."

Asked what they'd like to see on Georgia Street, Karen Crosby and Joan Kicinski said in unison, "music, food tastings, something besides bars."

They said while Georgia Street hasn't quite lived up to the hype yet, "give it time. It will come. The space is good. It's a process."

Thompson said the Second Thursday events are done for the season, but next month they plan a special holiday event called "City Sidewalks." It will run December 7-9 at the west end of Georgia Street and include vendors, artisans, choral groups and a small outdoor skating rink.

It won't be an ice rink, but one with an artificial surface. She said people will be able to rent the special skates for free.

Also in the works are special events for St Patrick's Day, Memorial Day and July 4th.