Grand Park helps Hamilton County hotels run up score

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Hotel business is booming in Hamilton County, with mid-year occupancy up 9 percent from the first half of 2013.

The March opening of Westfield’s massive Grand Park Sports Campus has been a factor, but officials said area hotels are seeing strength across the board.

“It’s been a good summer,” said Gary Miller, general manager of the Staybridge Suites extended-stay hotel in Fishers.

He credits improving economic conditions for boosting corporate and leisure travel.    

“The economy in general is starting to move,” Miller said. “It’s coming back up.”

Indeed, business trips, sporting events and concerts at Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville continue to drive business, said Brenda Myers, executive director of Hamilton County Tourism Inc., which works to attract visitors.

The ’burbs also are seeing more spillover from big events in Indianapolis, like the National Rifle Association convention in April.

“It’s a beautiful thing when you have this many layers,” Myers said. “It makes you a little more resilient” to the ups and downs of the hospitality industry.

Hotel occupancy in the county for the first six months of the year hit 67.9 percent, according to data provided by Hamilton County Tourism Inc. That represented a 9-percent improvement over 62.3 percent in the first six months of 2013.

Although most suburban hotels don’t break down guest data for the tourism agency, teams participating in events at Grand Park are required to book their stays through a central housing bureau. In April, about 10 percent of the 64,000-plus room nights sold in Hamilton County came from Grand Park, Myers said.

“That’s the future,” she said.

The 400-acre complex has attracted about 600,000 visitors since its debut this year, and organizers expect that number to reach 1.5 million when the park is operating at full capacity.

Westfield built Grand Park as an economic development play, hoping to attract businesses that want a piece of the lucrative youth-sports market.

More than one-third of all tourism spending is tied to youth sports, according to the Michigan-based Travel and Tourism Research Association. Parents were expected to spend $8.1 billion last year on travel alone.  

Local officials expect hotels, restaurants and other retail to pop up around Grand Park, but Myers said the lodging component could take a while. Hotel operators typically want to see sustained demand—during the week as well as weekends—before entering a market, she said.

“There’s a lot of tire-kicking going on right now,” she said.

About a third of Grand Park visitors stay in Indianapolis because of tight supply in Hamilton County, Myers said.  Whether additional hotel offerings would draw them north remains to be seen.

Hamilton County has about 3,000 hotel rooms, mostly in clusters around U.S. 31, Interstate 69, Interstate 465 and State Road 37.

The only new rooms on the near-term horizon: a 92-room Courtyard by Marriott under construction near the intersection of State Road 37 and State Road 32 in Noblesville, and a 304-room Drury Plaza Hotel planned for Meridian and 96th streets in Carmel.

Adding 10 percent to the county’s hotel inventory likely will impact occupancy rates, but Myers expects the market to absorb the influx within two years. The Drury is expected to open in 2016.

“There are always booms and busts in the hotel business,” Myers said. “It rises and falls quickly.”

A boutique hotel also is planned as part of the second phase of the Carmel City Center development, and Edward Rose Development Group included a hotel in its plans for an $80 million mixed-use project near Main and Old Meridian streets in Carmel.

Although demand likely will soften this fall, Myers expects 2014 results to be better than last year’s 64.4-percent occupancy rate—itself an improvement over the 63.5 percent reported in 2012, the year Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl.
“To have a year like this year, we’re literally in ‘pinch me’ mode,” she said.

Hotel occupancy in downtown Indianapolis stood at 70 percent in 2013, up from 65 percent in 2010.

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