Editorial: Convention hotel plan a winner

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

We all know that connectivity is one of the Indianapolis convention industry’s biggest selling points. No city has more hotel rooms—4,700—connected to its convention center via downtown walkways.

But that connectivity means little to conventioneers who have to book rooms at Keystone at the Crossing or on the south side because everything downtown is full.

That reality underscores why the recently announced deal to create 1,400 hotel rooms spread across two new hotels built on Pan Am Plaza is so crucial to the long-term health of our convention industry and, by extension, our downtown overall.

You can’t rest on your laurels in the convention business. It was just seven years ago that the Indiana Convention Center completed its latest, $275 million expansion—leaving the city with the 15th-largest convention center in the nation. That same year, the 1,005-room JW Marriott opened, becoming the city’s largest hotel.

But other cities have continued to up their game as well, which helps explain why Indianapolis ranks disconcertingly poorly in one key metric—the number of hotel rooms within a half mile of the convention center. Indianapolis has 6,912 within that range, placing it 26th out of 29 cities, according to Visit Indy research.

Indianapolis has too much riding on its convention industry to let a competitive disadvantage go unaddressed. So we wholeheartedly endorse the swift action by Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration and the Capital Improvement Board to wipe out that shortcoming in resounding fashion.

Under the plan announced Oct. 19, Indianapolis-based Kite Realty Group Trust will build two Hilton-affiliated hotels on Pan Am Plaza, one with 800 rooms and 38 stories, the other with 600 rooms. Kite will serve as master developer of the overall project, which will include a $120 million, publicly funded addition to the convention center on Pan Am Plaza. That project, which would create the city’s largest ballroom, will connect to the two hotels and to the existing convention center via an elevated walkway over Capitol Avenue.

The deal already has led one giant convention—the gaming confab Gen Con—to extend its commitment to Indianapolis, and it no doubt will give the city a big boost as it seeks to win an extension with FFA. Indianapolis is one of two cities vying to host the FFA’s national convention from 2025 to 2031.

This is all exciting, but it would be premature to endorse the financial underpinnings of the deal since not enough is yet known. Kite President Tom McGowan declined to say how much the hotels would cost. He told IBJ “the numbers will continue to evolve” as CIB negotiates a final deal with Kite.

City officials say the $120 million would cover infrastructure and construction of the convention center expansion. That money would come from bonds that would be paid off using tax-increment financing funds.

Past convention center hotels have received significant city backing. Indianapolis chipped in $59.5 million for construction of a $450 million campus of hotels that includes the JW Marriott. In return, the city received an ownership stake in the property.

Kite and the city want to break ground next year—an ambitious timeline that suggests they are confident they can finalize financial terms quickly. We hope they are right—and that the terms end up reasonable to the city. We’re eager to see the two new hotels rise up—adding to the city’s skyline and the competitiveness of the city’s convention trade.•

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