This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

INDIANAPOLIS — In a place once known for its Irish stew on the menu and Guinness on tap, American college basketball apparel now hangs on the wall in place of beer signs and soccer team logos at what was Claddagh Irish Pub & Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis.

“We’ve been waiting a whole year now to come back to the Final Four in Indianapolis, and we love being here,” said Jon Brovold of J.E.B. Final 4 Headquarters. “We started to realize this could be something very good, and we started to make those phone calls to our contacts.”

One of Brovold’s phone calls led him to the owner of the building at 246 South Meridian Street, where the restaurant shut down for good last month and auctioned off all its fixtures.

But one man’s disappointment is another man’s opportunity as Brovold was able to secure a deal to lease the empty restaurant space for $3,000 and a 10% cut of the sales for the three weeks of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

In good times, Brovold said such a short term lease would have cost him $15,000.

“I’m looking for an empty storefront. I don’t care if it’s 20,000 feet or 2,000, if it’s open and in a good part of a city, then I want to be there,” said Brovold, who will soon open another store in the former Burger Study restaurant on Georgia Street. “It’s got to be a win-win in business, and we can give them some dollars, and that can help them because they’ve been struggling and their stores are empty.”

From the former Hard Rock Café on Meridian Street, to a smaller retail space just up the block on Maryland Street, to a shuttered restaurant on ground floor of Circle Centre, empty storefronts are filling up downtown to sell March Madness souvenirs and gear to college basketball fans.

“The first weekend was a lot better than we expected,” said Leon Jendraskow of N & D Sports located on the patio that was Primanti Brothers at the intersection of Illinois and Maryland Street. “I think a lot of it is Indy having an event after the coronavirus and people are excited to get out and about because we’ve all been cramped up in our houses for the last 11 or 12 months. It was good that they were able to open it up a little bit for people to come in.”

Jendraskow has visited Indianapolis several times over the years to sell merchandise to fans at sporting events.

“The locals have been out and about, and they’ve actually been thanking us being here. The town is very excited about having this event here,” he said. “We do have a lot of people coming up asking if we have seating available and if the restaurant is open.”

Creighton Shook of Shook Realty Group said downtown Indianapolis real estate demand is bouncing back after the twin setbacks of the 2020 pandemic shutdown and the social injustice protests and riots.

“We’ve seen a reasonably large uptick in leases being executed in that three to eight to ten thousand square foot range, which they’re solid local companies, people making plans to bring 20-30 people back to the office,” said Shook, who is taking inquiries from office managers and corporate leaders who have seen the pitfalls from their staffs working at home. “They’re starting to see some big dings on productivity and lack of creativity that would come from having people together, and they’re starting to push that again.”

Shook said that retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces are finding new tenants.

“Storefronts are starting to fill up. I think landlords are starting to get a little creative. They’re starting to look at short term leases,” he said. “I think we’ll see some of those pop up shops take on a more permanent fixture. This is a good test run. It’s a great time to get people to come back downtown. They have the activity. We have some out of town traffic again.

“It gives people a really good foot in the door to stay long term and become a fixture in downtown.”

Brovold said he saw the bottom fall out of his sports apparel sales business when the pandemic hit a year ago, and when he arrived in town last week, he recognized the impact the economic slump had on Indianapolis.

“This is such a vibrant city, and I come here every year and look forward to it, and it was really disturbing when we got here before the tournament. We got here during the Big Ten and before that, and there was nobody on the streets,” he said. “It’s really exciting for the city to come alive and to be part of it again.”