INDIANAPOLIS — The last time there were this many college basketball fans in Indianapolis in the month of March was in 2019… one year before COVID-19 and two years before the NCAA Men’s Tournament played before empty stands.

“I think starting Wednesday this week we’ll have the Big Ten and that’s gonna cruise into town and really give us a nice boost and then we’re gonna feel it heavily next Thursday when it’s St. Patty’s Day coinciding with the first days of games in the NCAA Tournament,” said Brett Drescher, assistant general manager of the District Tap at the corner of Meridian Street and the newly christened Big Ten Boulevard, formerly known at Georgia Street. “We’re excited for this one to be fully open and getting all the crowds in here and enjoying the games.”

The 2020 Big Ten Men’s Tournament fouled out on the second day as the coronavirus began sweeping through teams and fans.

Last year brought the full NCAA tournament in a bubble to Indianapolis minus most of the crowds.

This year, social distancing and COVID-related restrictions have been scrapped and IMPD is preparing for downtown crowds like pre-pandemic as the Big Ten Women’s Tournament is leaving town and the Big Ten Men’s Championship arrives.

“We always expect big crowds to come on in because these teams travel really well,” said IMPD Homeland Security Commander Brian Mahone. “We’re gonna look at the max capacity of Gainbridge Fieldhouse and we’ll probably see crowds close to 17,000.”

Mahone said IMPD will follow typical big event protocols when it comes to staffing downtown, especially the South Meridian Bar District that has been plagued with late-night weekend violence the past few years.

“We’ll have extra officers down there in the area because we are expecting fans for the Big Ten,” he said. “We usually have a posture we put in for the weekend when the crowds get busy downtown anyway so we’ll just kind of buffer that up for the fans that are coming in for basketball.”

Indiana Sports Corp predicts multiple NCAA tournaments and championships to add up to $30 million to the Indianapolis economy this month.

Drescher expects to fill every seat at the bar and at the tables at District Tap over the next 12 days.

“We had a limited staff last year but now that we’ve opened back up, we’re getting events back in town. We’re full blast. We’ve got everybody. We’re all hands on deck so that’s a great thing for the staff,” he said. “It’s looking right now like it’s all systems go as far as moving forward.”