SOUTH BEND – It was here, then it was leaving, and after all the back-and-forth the College Football Hall of Fame will stay in Downtown South Bend for at least the next 18 months. One of the city's biggest events that comes with the Hall is the annual Enshrinement Festival and festivities were already in full swing by noon Friday.

Local businesses always look forward to Enshrinement weekend. Their first hope is to have beautiful weather and large crowds. The second is to have all those people bring their pocketbooks, ready to spend.

“I’m hoping business is good,” said Donald Willman, who works at Imagine That! – a toy store that moved downtown in November.

At clothing boutique Bombay International next door, employee Iris Waymouth said she hopes the same. Bombay posted discounts and special pricing on its outside windows, hoping to lure passersby inside. 

But all the speculation over whether the College Football Hall of Fame was staying or leaving led up to lots of confusion for locals. 

“We face that every day at the CVB,” said Rob DeCleene, the executive director of the convention and visitors bureau.  “A lot of people think it’s not here anymore so we fight and we counter that every day.”

“It’s a little disappointing for everyone [that the hall will be leaving South Bend in December 2012], but we understand that sometimes you have to make changes and sometimes change is better,” said Becky Beckman, College Football Hall of Fame director of sales & special events.  “But we're thrilled to still be here.”

The enshrinees themselves do their part to bring the regional and national crowds, who in turn fill up downtown hotels.

“Desmond Howard is in this class,” said DeCleene. “Just like last year with Tim Brown we had a lot of Irish fans that came to town, Chris Spielman last year brought tons of fans from Ohio State. Whether we agree with them or not, Michigan fans are very loyal. So with Desmond in the class we're anticipating a lot of Michigan fans along with it.”

There’s also been a big push over the past few years for bigger community involvement by incorporating the ribs cook off, a huge block party and local musicians. For more information on this year’s festival and to check out the schedule of events, visit

Last year the Festival brought about 20,000 people downtown and organizers hope to have at least that many this weekend. Since the Hall will be in South Bend until at least December 2012, the city is on track to host next year's Enshrinement Festival as well.

It’s the start of what should turn out to be a pretty profitable week in St. Joseph County. Families and competitors for the annual baton twirler’s competition – America’s Youth on Parade (AYOP) – will begin to roll into town this weekend.  An estimated 6,000 people will fill up hotels in South Bend and Mishawaka over the next week. AYOP brings several million dollars to our area each year, according to the convention & visitors bureau.