Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Conseco Fieldhouse and Circle Centre and Lucas Oil Stadium and Conventions and Hospitality taxes and Attractions and Victory Field and Tourism & Hospitality and Government & Economic Development and Economic Development and Public-Private Partnership and Visitor Spending and Sports Business

Downtown development great for citizens, visitors

November 10, 2008
If I turn left onto Washington Street from the IBJ parking lot and head to the zoo, I pass a lot of stuff.

By "stuff," I mean at least a half-dozen restaurants, five hotels, Circle Centre mall, three major museums, Victory Field and White River State Park.

Not to mention that big hole in the ground between the ballpark and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, where a 34-story, 1,000-room J.W. Marriott and other hotels are under construction. All that, just in the 10 blocks on the way to the zoo. I think a lot of people who live in central Indiana wonder about this. When they hear the news of a $425 million convention-hotel complex going up downtown, they are skeptical and think, "Do we really need another hotel?" These folks may be not-too-distant relatives of the people who hear about downtown amenities like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail or public arts projects and wonder what all the fuss is about.

My guess is the majority of those people rarely, if ever, make it downtown to see any of it firsthand.

All this great stuff has popped up in the last 25 years as our city has taken on the task of creating something out of itself. We've done a splendid job, and all of it makes our lives more pleasant and interesting.

But they weren't built just for us, you know? We're only half the equation. In fact, if they were just for us, half of them would be shut down by now, or wouldn't have existed in the first place.

They're for out-of-towners.

Which brings me to yet another reality that escapes most people who live here: The convention business is critical to our city and generates a significant amount of money. It is also what makes all these amenities viable.

Those of us who work downtown are generally aware of the importance of convention business. We regularly see those thousands of name-tagged conventioneers roaming Circle Centre and the sidewalks. We have heightened awareness.

I think most businesspeople, whether they work downtown or not, also understand the importance of conventions to the city. They know the rationale for these kinds of investments: Our central geographic location and our cost of living, coupled with an attractive infrastructure, make the convention business one worth pursuing here for the revenue it generates.

It's our job to make sure everybody else knows how important it is. And I know one person who would really appreciate our help: Don Welsh, the newly hired CEO of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.

Welsh came to us from Seattle, where he spearheaded a marketing initiative called "Tourism Matters," designed to educate the people of Seattle and the state of Washington about the importance of tourism.

The idea is that when the average citizen understands the importance of tourism and the convention business, he or she will be more likely to understand the reasoning behind hotel and sales taxes designed to help pay for needed amenities.

Welsh recently told a group of us at IBJ that he feels like a kid in a toy store. He thinks he's come to Indianapolis at just the right time, an opportune moment to take the city's convention business to the proverbial "next level."

In addition to the aforementioned J.W. Marriott hotel, the city will soon benefit from an expanded convention center with 350,000 additional square feet of exhibit space. The hotel and expansion will come on line in 2011.

Add to that the newly opened Lucas Oil Stadium and a spanking new, state-of-the-art airport terminal, and the stars appear to be aligning for Welsh to make good on his promise.

Welsh has been a busy man. Since his arrival, he says, he's had breakfast, lunch or dinner with 150 to 200 different business and government leaders, all of whom have been encouraging about their desire to help him accomplish his goal.

We all know it's critical. I'm here to join the chorus, and we should all do whatever we can to help Welsh succeed.

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Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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