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Site of last Elvis concert soon to be demolished

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INDIANAPOLIS — Kay Lipps remembers Elvis Presley's final concert like it was yesterday.

It was June 26, 1977, and from her front-row seat, Lipps managed to snatch two of the many scarves Elvis tossed into the crowd. After hearing her favorite songs, the veteran of 27 other Elvis concerts left the show already dreaming of the next time she'd see the King.

But there wouldn't be a next time. Fifty-one days after the show at an Indianapolis basketball arena, Elvis was dead.

Many fans are now bracing for the demolition of Market Square Arena, scheduled to be brought down by explosives Sunday morning.

"A lot of fans still can't believe it's coming down, and it really is sad," said Lipps, 55, of suburban Carmel. "I'm anxious to know what takes its place. Wouldn't it be a shame if it's just a parking lot?"

A city board voted in 1999 to demolish Market Square after deeming it not economical to operate. Built in 1974, the arena was home to the Indiana Pacers until 1999, when the Conseco Fieldhouse opened.

"It will be a very sad day for Elvis fans," said Todd Slaughter, president of the 20,000-member Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain, the world's largest group of Elvis admirers.

The night of Presley's final show, a nearly sold-out audience of about 16,000 streamed into Market Square to see the King, glistening in a white-sequined jumpsuit with an Aztec sundial motif.

Weeks later, he was found dead. At 42, he died from heart disease worsened by prescription drug abuse.

Slaughter got a glimpse of Presley's condition on the night of the concert, when the singer presented him with a trophy for his 10 years as the fan club's president. Slaughter said Presley was ashen-skinned, shaking and off-balance. Still, he said, Presley delivered a remarkably emotional performance that night.

"It was like he was singing for the last time, which of course he was," he said.

But Zach Dunkin, then a rock critic for The Indianapolis News, panned the concert, calling Presley's performance sluggish and rambling.

"For months after my review I was getting hate mail," said Dunkin, now arts and entertainment editor for The Indianapolis Star. "You don't mess with the King; I learned that. Even my own dad gave me a hard time about it."

After Presley died, Lipps and other fans formed a group that each year marked the concert's anniversary with a candlelight vigil. But during last week's 24th anniversary, there was no vigil at the arena, which is now off-limits. The group instead met at a nightclub to watch two Elvis impersonators.

Presley's estate has given the city permission to erect a marker with Elvis' likeness at the site of the arena. And an arena display case of items from the last concert has joined the Presley estate's vast collection of Elvis memorabilia.

Still, many fans of the King are alarmed by the plan to demolish the arena, says Todd Morgan, a spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.

"The fans are concerned," he said, "but Elvis' greatest legacy is what he left behind — the music, the films — and that's going to live forever."