Indianapolis rolls out welcome mat for Final Four fans amid RFRA fallout

The passage of RFRA prompted a huge response from businesses and individuals wishing to show their support for LGBT rights.
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As thousands of fans watched the Final Four teams practice at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday afternoon, a small group huddled in a room on the 19th floor of the Chase Tower.

They're part of a new campaign, not to get out the vote, but to get out a message.

As Downtown Indy's Bob Schultz explained, "The message is simple, but the message is critical - that Indy welcomes all."

That message is on T-shirts and buttons being given to businesses and others that want to support the city.

Downtown Indy, the Indy Chamber and others are working to repair the damage and restore the city's reputation following the divisive debate over the religious freedom law.

"Immediately when things got bad on Sunday, we came together Sunday night and started to put together a plan," said Molly Chavers with Indy Hub. "I hate seeing indy on the national stage - for people on the outside to think this is who we are because it's not."

Indy Hub works to attract young professionals to the city and retain them. Chavers said equality for all is a huge issue for them.

"If we don't get this right and make sure people know that everyone is welcome here, we're going to fail. We're going to lose this very competitive race globally for talent," she said.

Jessica Higdon with the Indy Chamber said they've already felt the impact through several cities and businesses halting travel to Indiana as well as a loss in conventions and business opportunities. Some groups, like Wilco and Disciples of Christ, have already said they'll return to Indianapolis after announcing cancellations.

"We're looking at close to a billion-dollar loss in revenue from business and tourism to Indianapolis and through the state," Higdon said.

So during one of biggest weekends of the year, they're distributing thousands of Indy Welcomes All T-shirts to businesses like Sun King Brewery.

Sun king co-founder Clay Robinson said, "We really wanted to help promote how open and welcoming Indy is to all people. And we have a lot of traffic here and we know there are others who would like the opportunity to show their support."

Beth Spitznogle saw Robinson in his T-shirt and said, "I love that!"

Asked if she knew what it was about, she said, "Yes, absolutely. It's that Indy is welcoming to all people, whether it's for the Final Four or in general."

That's the message city leaders hope fans take home.

Higdon said, "When they leave here we want them to go to their respective cities and say, man, Indy did it right and I think we'll be able to do, I really do."

She said the campaign will continue long after the Final Four.

See all stories about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.