Gen Con convention betting on attendance surge

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Organizers of Gen Con Indy, one of the city’s largest annual conventions and perhaps its most unique, are optimistic this year’s event will draw record attendance.

The four-day gaming convention, which kicked off on Thursday, attracted 30,000 visitors last year who helped generate $25.9 million in direct spending, according to hospitality officials. The city has hosted the convention since 2003.

But thanks in large part to an expanded Indiana Convention Center, Seattle-based Gen Con LLC  thinks it can top last year’s attendance by more than 20 percent, hitting 35,000.

“We think Indianapolis is a great convention city,” Gen Con spokeswoman Megan Culver said. “We feel like the community is embracing us, and of course the expansion of the convention center and the new hotels help.”

Completed in January, the $275 million expansion added 254,000 square feet of exhibit space, 63,000 square feet of meeting rooms and 103,000 square feet of pre-function and registration space.

“This is a perfect example of, if you build it, they will stay,” said Chris Gahl, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. “Without the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, it’s highly likely that Indianapolis would have lost Gen Con.”

The larger convention center convinced Gen Con in April 2009 to sign a five-year contract keeping it in Indianapolis through 2015. But ICVA is hoping to secure the convention for several more years and is in discussions with Gen Con to extend the agreement.

“We feel very confident,” Gahl said. “We would anticipate re-upping with GenCon past 2015 for an additional time period.”

Visitors to Gen Con travel from as far as Germany, Great Britain and Spain. Activities span from traditional board games to exotic sci-fi contests, in which some players sport the costumes of their favorite characters.

With the additional convention space, Gen Con this year is offering 10,000 gaming events, up from 8,000 last year, Culver said.

Gen Con ranks behind the October National FFA Convention, which typically draws 55,000 visitors, as Indianapolis’ second-largest convention.

The FFA, however, leaves Indianapolis after 2012 and will return in 2016 as part of a two-city rotation with Louisville, which will host the convention from 2013 to 2015.



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