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Visit Indy to map city's strategy for tourism

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Does Indianapolis need a zip line connecting the heart of downtown to White River State Park—not only for entertainment but also as a mode of transportation?

How about a water taxi along White River from downtown to the Indianapolis Museum of Art—or even all the way to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers?

Should the next Indiana Convention Center expansion go up or out? If out, on the site of Victory Field? Or should the railroad tracks south of the convention center be cleared for an expansion and possibly a new hotel?

Local tourism officials hope for answers to these questions and more as Indianapolis undertakes its first-ever tourism master plan.

The city’s Capital Improvement Board in December approved spending $178,000 for a study leading to a plan looking to 2020.

“With this plan, we’re going to be looking at the big picture and the fine details,” said Leonard Hoops, CEO of the city’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Indy. “We’re going to get down to granular levels of planning like we’ve never done before.”

The project, which will involve outside consultants along with Visit Indy staff time, is expected to be completed in 12 to 18 months. Visit Indy already has hired one consultant—locally based Opportunities Unlimited—to help lay plans to enhance visitor experiences at various city destinations, and hopes to have a lead consultant hired by late March.

Broadly, the master plan will address: product development, events, visitor experience, neighborhoods and cultural districts, tourism infrastructure, transportation, advocacy and public affairs, and partnerships and alliances.

The plan also will address aspects of corporate travel and conventions, other types of group business, and leisure travel.

Additionally, the study will seek to address the need for a tourism and visitor center in Indianapolis and the possibility for partnering with corporate interests the way Atlanta does with Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines. It will look at what to do about panhandling and how to get more direct flights to and from Indianapolis International Airport, among other topics that will shape hospitality growth for years to come.

Although a tourism master plan has been pondered periodically, the initiative took wing last summer after Visit Indy officials attended a seminar led by officials in Vancouver, British Columbia, about tourism master planning.

A spate of new development in recent years—including Lucas Oil Stadium, the midfield Indianapolis International Airport terminal, the 1,005-room JW Marriott, and the Indiana Convention Center expansion—have positioned Indianapolis to grow its tourism and convention business. But having that infrastructure is not enough, Hoops said.

“Indianapolis [officials] are not going to sit on their hands and say ‘We’re good,’” Hoops said. “There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be fleshed out. That’s why this is going to be a significant study.”

Master plans are nothing new for city planning commissions. More recently, hospitality and other groups have begun to see the value in such planning.

Last year, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. crafted its own master plan—dubbed "Velocity"—mapping development and use of the city’s center from several different points of view.

Tourism Vancouver has been on the leading edge of the hospitality planning trend, and Visit Indy officials are consulting with officials there as they craft their own plan.

Hoops is confident the master plan will more than pay for itself.

“We’re assuring that the CIB maintains a healthy revenue stream, which in turn pays to operate the infrastructure we need and fuels our efforts to market the city’s tourism and convention industry,” he said.

CIB is funded primarily through visitor taxes on services including rental cars, hotel rooms and dining out. It, in turn, is the primary funder of Visit Indy.

Brenda Myers, executive director of the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and a CIB board member, said, “The type of research you need to do which generates the really valuable information is time-intensive and costs a lot of money. When you look at the amount of information we’re going to generate, it’s not really a lot of money.”

Although the master plan won’t govern a time period per se, Hoops expects it to look out as far as 2020 and be updated every year.

Milt Thompson, a CIB and Visit Indy board member, said, “This is going to give us a blueprint of where we need to be and how to get there.”

The master plan will deal primarily with Indianapolis, but some things outside the city’s borders also will be addressed. For instance, how will the new Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield affect hotels and other attractions in Marion County?

“I’m hopeful this plan includes an inventory of the region, because it’s a symbiotic relationship between Indianapolis and the surrounding counties,” Myers said. “If you’re not looking at all the ways we can work together, you’re leaving opportunities on the table.”
 

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  • Agree
    I do agree with your statements completely. I just see more studies as continued delay. I do agree the mayor barrels through things without thinking (i.e. the "cricket" park for $5 million).
  • Build, build, build?
    That makes no sense Ramz. Just build and build and hope that there is sustainability to support new projects is not the way to go. We complain in the city about projects that the mayor just barrels into with out consideration, and that is exactly what you suggest. What is so bad about planning and being prepared for a more secure future of success? Leonard Hoops and Visit Indy have done great things in the past few years and we should differ to their expertise. I for one applaud the smart use of studies to find the best possible way for the city to use its resources and attributes to its advantage.
    • Blah blah blah
      How many more studies does this city need? Hello? People have given great ideas, instead of spending more money on the same type of studies why don't you actually move forward with some of these projects voiced by so many others. Stop looking to 2020 and work on stuff now, I don't see Chicago, or New York doing studies...they just continue to build and build. This city is so hesitant.
    • Why not Crowdsource the plan?
      There is a huge opportunity for the city to collaborate with residents, business leaders and stakeholders to crowdsourcing a tourism strategy for Indy using a collaborative design process with one or two facilitated workshops to co-develop strategies with a focus on policies and actions and place-based investments. We helped develop the California Economic Strategy and Silicon Valley Economic Forum in this way - very hands on. http://bit.ly/1jtCpTR
    • Look at a Streetcar
      Indianapolis has a logical streetcar route from a downtown loop up College Avenue to Broad Ripple and east to 62nd and Keystone. However, due to the ignorant rail bias the chances of that happening in my lifetime are zilch.
    • White River
      I agree with Todd wholeheartedly, but there is no way the River is going to be used for watersports or tourism until we stop dumping wastewater into it.
    • High line
      The tracks' most important role right now is bringing coal to the downtown steam plant. That plant is currently in the process of switching to gas, which obviously will not be delivered by rail. All other rail traffic except Amtrack (to Union Station) could be diverted around the city. I personally love the idea of an Indy High Line, but the Union Station bit would have to be worked out somehow. It is interesting how many of our cultural institutions back up to the tracks.
    • Track Walk Way
      I'm relatively new to the area, young, and ignorant of the importance of the train tracks south of the convention center, but since clearing them was brought up anyways, I'd like to suggest a NYC "High Line" proposal. The same tracks run literally next to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field, and the Indianapolis Zoo, along with easy access from Meridian Street/Georgia Street area and Lucas Oil Stadium. Not to mention running through the Lilly Complex, all the way down to Garfield Park, and up to Massachusetts Ave. I think it would be a huge investment and progress towards the walk/bike lifestyle we are trying to gain for Indianapolis. Again, i would like to stress my ignorance of the importance of the train tracks, I understand it would be a huge project, but it would be a huge image boost for the city, leaving the industrial age and moving towards a healthier, more modern age. Here's a link to the High Line, in case whoever reads this is unfamiliar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Line_(New_York_City)
    • Streetcar
      I think the ideas for a water taxi and a visitor center would be great additions to help boost tourism. Don't forget a streetcar project (cough-cough) and a way to use the White River for rowing competitions.

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