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Openings launch new era for Indianapolis tourism

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The $275 million Indiana Convention Center expansion was completed in January, and the 1,005-room JW Marriott opened the following month.

But while the projects marked the start of a new era for the city’s tourism industry, the man who helped lead the charge for aggressive expansion, Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association CEO Don Welsh, wasn’t here to see it come to fruition.

Welsh, ICVA CEO since 2008, caught local tourism officials off guard when he announced Jan. 2 that he was leaving to become CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau.

Undaunted, ICVA pressed ahead with plans to compete for corporate meetings and conventions with the likes of Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas and San Diego.

ICVA officials spent 2011 crisscrossing the nation touting the city’s new midfield airport terminal, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the expanded convention center and growing downtown hotel market.

By all accounts, the effort paid off, as hotel room nights sold increased more than 10 percent over 2010. The JW Marriott alone sold 200,000 room nights in 2011.

The Convention Center expansion was part of a long-term plan to bolster the vitality of downtown and attract millions of additional dollars in visitor spending.

But the project was not without risk. It cost $275 million to build, and convention center operating expenses rose from $6 million in 2010 to $11 million in 2011.

The city’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns the Convention Center, anted up another $2.6 million for upgrades to the old convention space so it will match the addition.

The state financed the bulk of the expansion by selling bonds. The money to pay off the bonds and some operating expenses is coming from a stew of taxes on hotel rooms, meals and rental vehicles.

From the mid-1990s to 2008, the city booked about 500,000 room nights annually. The ICVA ramped up sales efforts and booked about 650,000 hotel-room nights in 2009 and 2010. The goal is to reach 850,000 by 2015, said ICVA Chief Financial Officer James Wallis.

If those goals aren’t met, the city will have difficulty paying to operate the expanded facility.

The man charged with reaching those goals is Leonard Hoops, who succeeded Welsh in March. Hoops previously was executive vice president and chief customer officer of the San Francisco Travel Association.•

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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