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The Hoosier Dome opened in July 1984 to a crowd of 67,596 for an Olympic team exhibition. The Colts began playing in the same stadium in August.

Indy wasn’t ready to stop.

The city had hosted the National Sports Festival in 1982 and built a natatorium that would later host NCAA men’s and women’s swimming championships and U.S. Olympic trials. A track and field stadium and a velodrome were built, and the city began billing itself as the nation’s amateur sports capital. It hosted the Pan Am Games in 1987. The NCAA’s Final Four was played in Indianapolis in 1980. Five men’s and one women’s final four have been held there since. The NCAA, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the governing bodies of seven sports _ including track and field and gymnastics _ are all based in Indianapolis.

As the city’s sports reputation grew, it gained new life at its heart.

Before the sports renaissance, there were few reasons to stay in the heart of the city after businesses closed. For half a century, the city’s biggest event was the Indianapolis 500, which attracts more than a quarter-million fans each Memorial Day weekend. But there was little nightlife, and even fewer places to stay.

Now, the city that had fewer than 500 hotel rooms downtown in 1970 has more than 6,500, and about a dozen new hotels have opened in the past decade, including a 1,000-room JW Marriott. The number of downtown restaurants and bars has doubled to 300 in the past 10 years, and there are more than 200 shops, according to Indianapolis Downtown Inc., the city’s tourism agency.

On any given night, visitors can travel just a few blocks to see the Pacers at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, stage productions at the Indiana Repertory Theatre or live music at the Old National Centre or White River State Park. The downtown canal walk offers pedal boats, gondolas and bicycles for rent.

Thousands of residents have embraced downtown living, and more than 3,200 houses, condominiums and apartments are expected to be under construction or completed within five years.

Tourism officials say visits to downtown attractions have increased 83 percent since 1994.

The numbers don’t surprise Don Ruark, a 78-year-old retiree from Fillmore, Ind., who recalls the city’s quiet days when he worked at drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co.

“What’s happened here has really been an awakening,” Ruark said. “If word hasn’t gotten out about Indianapolis, it should.”

A Super Bowl had still seemed out of reach to many. The city lost out to Minneapolis for the 1992 game and to Dallas for 2011.

Indiana University athletic director Fred Glass, president of Indianapolis’ 2011 bid committee, said the city was given little chance of hosting because it was a small-market city in a cold-weather climate. But the committee agreed this time that decades of transformation had paid off.

Visitors have noticed the transformation, too. After only 24 hours in Indianapolis, Chuck Pinto of Vineland, N.J., was sold on the city’s charms.

He and his wife, Sherrie, said they thought Indianapolis was just a little town in the Midwest before arriving there Saturday morning. But since then, he said he’s been amazed by how friendly and welcoming people were and how accessible the city was.

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