INDIANAPOLIS — Preparations are underway for what city leaders are calling “blockbuster” weeks of events in Downtown Indianapolis.

Right now, the city is playing host to the NFL Combine, which ends Sunday. That event alone, according to Visit Indy, is expected to bring in more than $10 million.

On top of that, Indianapolis is also host to the Big Ten Tournaments, with the women’s teams starting this week, followed by the men next week.

Shortly after, Indy is also expected to host the first couple of rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

“Downtown has deliberately been designed with big events in mind, and we’re seeing those event muscles flex now,” said Senior VP of Downtown Indy, Inc. Bob Schultz.

“Guests are coming back in to full arenas, full opportunities and certainly an energized forecast,” he added.

It’s no secret restaurants and retailers were hit hard during the pandemic with the industry still working to recover. In the pandemic’s early stages, Schultz says about 36 restaurants ended up closing for good. However, 75 new businesses opened downtown just last year.

It’s a sign, he says, that indicates the economy is going to be ok.

“We have a good blend of outside visitors coming in for big events, as well as a strong residential draw, as well as a workforce that’s now starting to come back,” he said.

Meanwhile, area restaurants are also adjusting their game plans to accommodate the rush.

“Staffing is a major issue for all of us. Not just us, across the street, you know… everywhere,” said Goodwood Indy GM Arshad “AZ” Zafar.

Like everywhere else, Zafar says Goodwood Indy is getting creative as they welcome in more visitors, such as staff taking on multiple roles and closing sections as needed to meet the crew on hand.

“People will go ‘Hey there’s an open table’, and you explain to them, ‘Hey listen we don’t have the staffing,” he said, “and they’re like ‘Oh I get it, not a problem.’ So people have been very patient.”

Zafar says they’re operating at about 50% staffing. In the meantime, they’ve hired “event only” staff to help with the upcoming rush the Big Ten will bring.

“We will be the home bar for the Fighting Illini,” Zafar said. “Next time you come in here, the bar will be completely orange. We’re actually making a beer for them, a blood orange light beer for them so they can enjoy it, all their fans.”

At The Slippery Noodle Inn, management says staffing is coming back, but even with a full crew, hours are limited.

“We are technically fully staffed,” said Operations Manager Sara Etherington, “We’re not back to being open 7 days a week, that’s what’s not back 100% yet.”

Right now, The Slippery Noodle is closed on Sunday and Monday, but hours will adjust as events happen.

“So for the final game, with Big Ten Men for instance, we’ll be open that Sunday, but just for that particular  isolated Sunday,” Etherington said.

Despite the changes, businesses are excited for the boost and new visitors. It’s a welcomed sight after a challenging two years with the pandemic.

“Last year, we were still kind of waiting through what does post-COVID look like, and now I feel like we’re getting a better grip on it,” Etherington said.

St. Elmo Steakhouse, a popular place among attendees, is also taking in the rush. General Manager Richard Edwards says it’s been exciting to have everyone back.

“We’re a recognizable name for a lot of these attendees for combine,” he said, “and seeing them in here networking, there’s a little bit of starstruck for us and some of the employees. I don’t want to sound jaded, but we’re kind of used to it.”

Edwards says they’ve been fortunate to be nearly fully staffed and their books are returning to wide open status prior to quarantine.

However, like many in the industry, they’re also making their own adjustments to keep service flowing.

“I don’t want my staff to be just hit all at once,” Edwards said. “We try to push everything out. We accommodate as best we can. There’s a little bit of manipulation of the reservation system and we do that just to help our staff give the best service and best cuisine possible.”