City planners seek ways to replace PRI convention: Annual event was big money maker each December

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Indianapolis hospitality leaders have launched a campaign to make up for the loss of a huge racing industry convention that is taking a hiatus from the city for the next half-decade.

The Performance Racing Industry, or PRI, trade show has been a major event for the Indianapolis’ convention business for seven years, annually bringing up to 40,000 visitors to the city who spend more than $26.7 million.

This event was especially valued because it typically took place in early December, traditionally the slowest time of the year for the convention and exhibition industry.

The event’s increasing size, however, made it harder to find room at the Indiana Convention Center. Last year, PRI officials said they would move the event to Orlando starting in 2005 but agreed to bring it back in 2010, after the planned expansion of the Indiana Convention Center is finished.

While everyone’s relieved to have that agreement, the five years between now and 2010 are looming large.

“That’s a huge hole,” said Bob Schultz of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.

“It’s not going to be easy to replace something with that kind of volume,” agreed Jesse Ghumm, president of the Greater Indianapolis Hotel and Lodging Association and chairman of Indianapolis Downtown Marketing Inc.

Easy or not, the organizations want to fill at least part of the hole and are considering plans to recruit other meetings and events, encourage downtown holiday tourism, and promote the downtown to local residents as well.

Schultz said ICVA is looking for small to midsize conventions or events to help fill the December gap until 2010.

“We are identifying groups that could fill a single hotel,” he said, but declined to identify potential events.

Downtown hospitality officials aren’t going to find a single event to replace PRI, they said. The event was always kind of an oddity in terms of convention and trade show timing. Few such events are scheduled during the holiday season because people are busy with family plans, holiday shopping and vacations, Schultz said.

Still, ICVA isn’t going to let that fact discourage them.

“We will do everything to backfill that time until PRI returns,” Schultz said.

Downtown promotional groups will look for additional ways to generate business. Julia Watson, vice president of marketing for Indianapolis Downtown Inc., said plans are under way to market downtown to the central Midwest as a holiday destination.

A two-part media campaign is expected to start this month.

Schultz said part of the campaign involves buying advertising in newspapers and other media outlets from northern to southern Indiana, from Fort Wayne south to Evansville, to promote downtown Indianapolis as the place for holiday shopping trips.

The second part involves promoting Indianapolis to media outlets in Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati and other regional metropolitan areas.

The goal of the campaign is to market Indianapolis as a holiday family vacation spot.

Schultz noted that Chicago residents, for example, aren’t going to be particularly interested in Christmas shopping in Indianapolis, but they could be sold on it as a place for a weekend trip.

Schultz said there are no plans to buy advertising in these markets. Instead, downtown groups will try to get media outlets, such as newspaper travel sections or regional magazines, to do stories about Indianapolis during the holidays.

“It’s 93 degrees out, but we’re thinking snow and fun,” Schultz said.

Watson said downtown groups hope to use the annual Circle of Lights event the day after Thanksgiving as a promotional vehicle. The official lighting of the holiday decorations on Monument Circle already draws 100,000 people, she said

The Mayor’s Office and the Arts Council of Indianapolis are also participating in the campaign.

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