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UPDATE: Hotel deal helped land FFA conventions

December 12, 2008

A central Indiana consortium of 128 hotels offering 14,000 rooms at prices below market rates was key in securing a deal to bring the FFA National Convention to Indianapolis in six of 12 years from 2016 to 2024.

FFA officials announced at Conseco Fieldhouse this morning that Indianapolis and Louisville will hold the convention in three-year rotations, with Indianapolis set to host the massive convention from 2016-18 and again from 2022-24.

Though Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association CEO Don Welsh wouldn't reveal many details of the stimulus package that sealed the deal, he said: "We worked very closely with area hotels. They were a very important part of this. We expect up to 60,000 hotel room nights from this."

Indianapolis was thought to offer more of an urban experience for the members, many of whom are from rural areas. Indianapolis also has a more convenient set of venues downtown and nicer hotels. However, Indianapolis hotels are more expensive than those in Louisville - raising costs to the point that FFA officials suspected attendance was being hurt.

Yet, FFA officials said the allure of numerous hotels near the convention site - as is the case in Indianapolis - was powerful. Indianapolis convention officials said such proximity can cost a bit more.

The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association and the National FFA Organization will share expenses of putting on the convention, which drew about 55,000 visitors to the city in each of the last two years. Estimated direct visitor spending is $40 million.

Due to finances and manpower required to put on the convention, which is held each fall, local officials never sought an exclusive deal.

"This deal allows us to ramp up and ramp down, and to revitalize our resources," Welsh said. "We think it's better long-term for the city and for this convention to have it on a rotating basis."

Indianapolis probably wouldn't have been in the running had it not been for the Indiana Convention Center expansion, which is now underway, and the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, said FFA Chief Operating Officer Doug Loudenslager. He said the addition of hotels and a variety of hotel room price points also made Indianapolis a solid selection.

Two years ago, FFA began winnowing through 14 cities bidding for the growing convention. Loudenslager said Indianapolis and Louisville both stood out due to their commitment to FFA and their improving convention infrastructure.

"Louisville has also made considerable improvements," Loudenslager told IBJ after this morning's press conference. "We needed cities that were going to grow as we did. By the time this convention comes back in 2016, we think we could have 70,000 attendees. We had to be confident the city could handle that growth."

Though Indianapolis offers a more urban feel, including more restaurants, shopping and other amenities the teenage attendees like, Loudenslager said he thought it was important for students to experience both cities.

"This gives the students a chance to experience two different cities in two different states and experience the agricultural impact on each one," Loudenslager said.

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