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Expanded center luring new conventions: City visitor's association lining up groups, events for new stadium, bigger center

November 12, 2007

Work on the Indiana Convention Center expansion is at least six months away, but numerous organizations already have reserved their space in anticipation of the larger venue.

Construction on the $275 million project is expected to begin next summer and last until 2010. After completion, the center will have 747,370 square feet of tradeshow space, about 253,000 more than it has now, in addition to 183,000 square feet available at the new Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association has commitments so far from 10 organizations that are either new to the city or returning solely due to the expansion or construction of the stadium. In total, those 10 groups will conduct 28 conventions or events in the stadium and expanded center beginning in August 2008-the date the stadium should be finished-until August 2018.

The ICVA uses 2008 as the start date for commitments, although the new convention center won't be finished until two years later, because most of the organizations said they would have left without the new stadium or expansion.

Those include Advanstar Communica- tions' Dealer Expo and the Fire Department Instructors Conference, both big draws that are staying until the expansion is complete because the city is willing to accommodate their needs. Between them, they generate more than $41 million in visitor spending.

Another group that has held conventions in Indianapolis but not annually is the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based National Truck Equipment Association. It was here in March and will be back in 2011.

"We would not have been able to return to the city without the expansion of the convention center and the new hotel complex," NTEA Director Steve Carey said. "We used every square inch of [the convention center] and the RCA Dome, and most of the rooms in the downtown area."

The hotel complex to which Carey referred is a complex of four hotels anchored by a J.W. Marriott convention hotel that will add more than 1,300 rooms. The $250 million campus will be built on land that's now home to a 235-room Courtyard by Marriott and a TGI Friday's restaurant across from Victory Field.

The California-based Performance Racing Industry is set to return as well, although its status is a bit more tentative. PRI's reappearance would be a major coup for the ICVA, given that PRI's 39,000 attendees drop $27 million into the coffers of local hotels, restaurants and attractions.

PRI bolted Indianapolis in 2005 for Orlando. Whether it returns in 2010 when the expansion is complete remains uncertain, but ICVA Director Bob Bedell assumes the organization at least will be here the following year.

"We're holding 2010 on a tentative basis and 2011 and beyond on a definite basis, based on our expanding and doing what we said we would do," he said. "We have a letter of agreement that, if they don't come back in 2011, there will be a penalty."

ICVA executives hosted PRI's exhibitor advisory committee in late August and gave members a tour of the new stadium and revealed a floor configuration they think would accommodate their trade show.

Steve Lewis, the event's producer, remains optimistic PRI will return.

"The growth of PRI really occurred in Indianapolis," he said. "I'm just hopeful we can find a way to come back. We very much enjoyed our time there."

Marching to stadium beat

The lone newcomer to Indianapolis so far is the suburban-Chicago-based Drum Corps International, which has contracted to hold its World Championships here for 10 years beginning in 2008.

Unlike the other shows, which are dependent on more exhibit space, the Drum Corps chose Indianapolis based on the opening of the new stadium. It never held its World Championships in the RCA Dome because of poor acoustics, Executive Director Dan Acheson said.

The flexibility of having the roof open or closed is a major factor in the organization's decision to hold its big event here.

"We like that insurance," he said. "It's a $2.5 million event for us, so we do everything we can to protect it. But it's the first time we'll be in a protected environment."

Indeed, Drum Corps International, which dubs itself Marching Music's Major League, recently has held its World Championships in Pasadena, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Foxboro, Mass.; and Orlando, Fla.

The organization committed to Indianapolis for a decade to bring stability to the event and become part of the community, Acheson said. Its headquarters in Addison, Ill., is moving to Indianapolis in March. Space has yet to be secured, but Acheson is scouting downtown locations.

Drum Corps International should draw 30,000 visitors to the city who will spend more than $10 million here, according to ICVA estimates.

Others that have held regional or national conventions in the city previously and are returning include the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association and the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemical Society.

Three faith-based organizations will make the trek back to Indianapolis, all signing on for 2011. They are the Nashville, Tenn.-based National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the Fishersbased International Center of the Wesleyan Church, which will host its International Youth Convention here.

All told, the 28 conventions will draw an estimated 760,100 visitors who are expected to spend nearly $460 million.

Large and small

The center hosts 40 citywide conventions a year and hopes to add 17 to 23 annually to support the additional space and hotel rooms.

To reach its goal, the ICVA has identified about 300 major conventions that it has a chance of attracting because of the additional space. Further, the association is chasing 1,000 smaller conventions that would need 500 to 1,200 rooms and could run concurrently with other expos.

"It means that we expect to do more simultaneous and back-to-back, overlapping conventions, and some larger conventions," Bedell said. "The [convention center] and hotel block will be larger, but what we want to do is impact more days of the year."

The smaller conventions would be contained to one hotel. Enticing some of those to Indianapolis may help the J.W. Marriott get off to a good start, Bedell said.
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