The second-largest convention this city has ever hosted is coming in April. About 70,000 attendees are expected to generate a $55 million economic impact across a broad cross-section of local businesses. Our specialty—Hoosier hospitality—should be spit-polished and on display in grandest fashion.
So why haven’t you heard much about preparing to welcome this economic bonanza? Because of the elephant in the room: The gargantuan guest coming to the Indiana Convention Center April 25-27 is the National Rifle Association. Few trade groups are more polarizing, so city officials, the local hospitality industry and the NRA itself have all been remarkably low-key about the group’s upcoming visit.
But this needn’t be so. Indianapolis has every reason to open arms wide to the Virginia-based trade group, and to fight hard for its repeat business. Making people feel welcome is what we do best.
The NRA annual convention nearly always draws at least some protesters, and during years that gun control is on the national front burner, more so. Houston, last year’s host, saw only a few. Local officials are working with the NRA to ensure that any demonstrators this year have a visible platform that still allows convention attendees to move freely in and out of events.
Although NRA members are as free to carry registered weapons during the convention as they are at any other time or place, no guns are sold during the event. Plenty of weaponry will be on display to order via shipping, but the NRA requires its vendors to remove all firing pins from on-site guns.
Several local hospitality industry officials wouldn’t discuss the convention with IBJ reporter Anthony Schoettle, and others agreed to only on condition of anonymity. But businesses have plenty to look forward to, according to other host cities. NRA members spend freely and represent a wide swath of incomes and interests, which portends a windfall for both high-end and economy hotels, restaurants and retailers.
“The typical NRA member is a good, law-abiding citizen,” local hotelier Jim Dora Jr. said.
And the organization as a whole is a discerning guest, it seems. Only four cities have managed to snag the convention twice over the last 15 years. The NRA was so pleased with its visit to Houston last year that it’s already asked the city to bid again.
We should consider that bit of news a dare. Nobody rolls out the welcome mat the way we do. Let’s make sure Houston is only a cloudy memory for NRA members once they’ve tasted how this city pampers its guests.•
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