Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
In Indianapolis, a nonprofit is turning the Colts’ old stomping ground into shade shelters, wallets, and more.
When Michael Bricker asked if he could have the fabric from the roof of the RCA/Hoosier Dome stadium, people cocked their heads. It was 2008. The Indianapolis Colts were gearing up to move to their new home at Lucas Oil Stadium; their former field was slated for demolition.
As the stadium stared down the wrecking ball, Bricker—then a newly minted architecture grad from UT Austin—realized that while there was a plan to strip, harvest, or dispose of some of the concrete, electrical, and metal elements, the roof risked missing out on the chance for a second life. He thought it was a valuable resource, and a public one. Taxpayer dollars had been funneled into the stadium, he says; this material belonged back in citizens’ hands.
Bricker tracked down the original purchase order and reached out to the manufacturer to learn more about the properties of the material. He pored over a seven-page document outlining its characteristics: Teflon-coated, waterproof, UV-blocking fiberglass, “designed to be virtually indestructible,” he says.
He collaborated with the demolition company to dismantle the building in a way that preserved the fabric. In all, they salvaged about 90 percent of the roofing material—enough to span 13 acres. It was folded and hauled to a warehouse. Even now, “we still can’t see the end of the pile,” Bricker says.
Bricker initially intended to hand off the idea to another local group in Indianapolis, but quickly learned that there wasn’t one equipped to handle an influx of this magnitude.
Unable to foist the reclaimed fabric onto an existing group, Bricker launched the nonprofit People for Urban Progress (PUP), aiming to repurpose stadium materials for civic projects. Portions of the roof were stretched to form standing shelters for local urban farms and parks; in another initiative, some of the 9,000 seats PUP salvaged from Bush Stadium were installed at local bus stops.
But the price tags for these projects became untenable. “We did what we could afford to do, which was buy a sewing machine,” Bricker says. His twin sister, Jessica Bricker, works with the PUP team to develop and churn out new consumer products, which will morph based on the materials that are available.
The current inventory includes colorful snap-front clutches ($56) and vinyl messenger bags ($124) with seatbelt straps slashed out of cars from a local auto shop. Proceeds roll over to support community projects.
Bricker says the goods appeal to sports fans who want to carry a part of the turf with them. And as the group eyes partnerships with other cities, the product line could eventually become something akin to jerseys: portable connections to buildings around the country, and the teams who left it all out on the field.
Clutches, $56 at People For Urban Progress.