Convention center tours part of larger tourism strategy

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Indianapolis tourism officials realize that simply building a bigger convention space doesn't mean people will come. So they're courting both existing convention clients and hot prospects to help seal the deal.

Last week, executives with the annual gaming convention Gen Con scoped out construction of the Indiana Convention Center expansion as part of a broader strategy by tourism officials to market the new space.

The larger convention space, expected to be finished next February, is about 50-percent complete and at a point where clients can begin to visualize meeting there, said Chris Gahl, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association spokesman.

“Rather than seeing it on renderings,” he said, “they’re going to be able to see it and touch it.”

The hardhat tour conducted Thursday with Gen Con leaders was the first visit by a client, but likely not the last. Any large group that is hosting a convention in Indianapolis—or even is considering the city—will have opportunity to view the new space, Gahl said.

Luring new conventions is key to the ICVA’s strategy to maximize use of the larger convention center. The association last year hosted 37 “citywide” conventions, those in which demand for hotel rooms were greater than the downtown capacity.

The ICVA estimates that it ultimately will need to host 65 to 75 large conventions annually to help the market absorb the additional hotel rooms that will come online as part of the new J.W. Marriott hotel complex.

Three of the smaller hotels in the complex, which contribute 600 rooms, opened last month. The 1,000-room J.W. Marriott should be ready next February. 

Seattle-based Gen Con, one of the city’s largest conventions, agreed last April to remain in Indianapolis through 2015. The convention attracts about 30,000 gamers annually, but executives are intent on growing attendance, now that more space will be available.

“By 2015, we would like to double that number,” CEO Adrian Swartout said. “But the question is, how do we get there?”

Swartout and Owen Seyler, Gen Con convention and business administrator, spent much of Thursday touring the convention center site and meeting with city leaders about expanding Gen Con’s reach.

The convention already is the city’s fourth-largest, creating nearly $27 million in direct visitor spending at local bars, hotels and restaurants. 

Offering more family-friendly activities to attract spouses and children of gamers, as well as tying city events and attractions to the convention, could help build attendance, Swartout said.

The addition of the J.W. Marriott and the convention center expansion should be big contributors.

The convention-center expansion adds 420,000 square feet to the existing mix, for a total of 1.2 million square feet, including Lucas Oil Stadium. That will push the city's rank in U.S. convention space to 16th from 32nd.

And adding 1,600 rooms, including the three smaller hotels in the Marriott Place project, will increase the total amount of downtown rooms almost 30 percent.

ICVA is conducting the site tours along with the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority, which is overseeing construction of the expansion.

Indianapolis has hosted Gen Con since 2003. This year’s festivities will run Aug. 13-16.


  • Hotel Tax
    Regardless of how big the convention center is or how many hotels get built in Indianapolis, 17% tax on the hotel rooms is uncalled for in Indianapolis. This is second highest tax in the country. These prospective organizations like Gen Con donâ??t have to come here; they can go to any major city in US and pay half on their hotel room tax. Hotel room is one of the major costs for attendees of many conventions.
  • public people
    Sense removing the what i called the "early effect" Your statistics have now moved well into power.Great job. Thank you Don Harris/i.c. ethics, planet earth
  • You mispelled Gen Con
    Gen Con is two words not one.

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  1. If I were a developer I would be looking at the Fountain Square and Fletcher Place neighborhoods instead of Broad Ripple. I would avoid the dysfunctional BRVA with all of their headaches. It's like deciding between a Blackberry or an iPhone 5s smartphone. BR is greatly in need of updates. It has become stale and outdated. Whereas Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Mass Ave have become the "new" Broad Ripples. Every time I see people on the strip in BR on the weekend I want to ask them, "How is it you are not familiar with Fountain Square or Mass Ave? You have choices and you choose BR?" Long vacant storefronts like the old Scholar's Inn Bake House and ZA, both on prominent corners, hurt the village's image. Many business on the strip could use updated facades. Cigarette butt covered sidewalks and graffiti covered walls don't help either. The whole strip just looks like it needs to be power washed. I know there is more to the BRV than the 700-1100 blocks of Broad Ripple Ave, but that is what people see when they think of BR. It will always be a nice place live, but is quickly becoming a not-so-nice place to visit.

  2. I sure hope so and would gladly join a law suit against them. They flat out rob people and their little punk scam artist telephone losers actually enjoy it. I would love to run into one of them some day!!

  3. Biggest scam ever!! Took 307 out of my bank ac count. Never received a single call! They prey on new small business and flat out rob them! Do not sign up with these thieves. I filed a complaint with the ftc. I suggest doing the same ic they robbed you too.

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