Three state lawmakers have filed a bill to create a new tourism fund aimed at helping convention- and sports-focused organizations across the state attract more events to Indiana.
The bill, authored by Republican Sens. Travis Holdman, Ryan Mishler and Kyle Walker would create the framework of a bid fund, which would be included in the overall budget for the Indiana Destination Development Corp.
The Indiana Sports Corp. would be responsible for administering a grant program to disperse the funds, with the organization giving money to groups across the state as well as using a portion of the funding for its own bidding efforts. The bill calls for at least 25% of the funds to go toward events outside of Marion County.
Indiana Sports Corp. officials declined to comment, instead referring IBJ to Walker to discuss the bill.
Walker said he sees the legislation as an investment in Indiana because of the economic impact and tax dollars big events tend to generate. He also noted that while sports are the biggest focus of the bill, tourism groups can also use funds to pursue major conventions and trade shows.
“There’s a return on investment,” he said. “It’s repaid in the form of economic impact and direct sales tax. And there’s a proven pattern of success [with big events]. So, this is not an expense. It’s really an investment that has a return that pays a dividend to taxpayers across the state of Indiana.”
Currently, the state does not have a bid fund that groups can tap into as they pursue major events, instead leaving the organizations to rely on existing budgets, private donations and ancillary local incentives as part of their bid package—including for major events like the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff and various major conventions.
At least 15 other states have bid funds similar to the one proposed, according to Walker, with most funded with at least $5 million annually.
The General Assembly would determine how much funding would go to the fund as part of its 2023 budgeting process. Walker said it’s too soon to know how much money would go into the fund.
“I don’t want to say a specific number because I think it’s too early to tell, but I think it merits a significant investment,” he said. “If that’s $5 million … I think that may be a good starting point for the conversation. But I think we should take the time to talk with stakeholders and determine what that right amount is.”
During a hearing on the bill last week, Indiana Sports Corp.’s Ryan Vaughn said $5 million would be an “extraordinary” amount. The Senate Appropriations Committee will weigh in on the issue on Thursday, when it holds a hearing on the bill at 3:30 p.m. in Statehouse Room 431.
Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy, said the Indianapolis tourism agency is supportive of the bill.
“After years of studying the feasibility, this bill is laser focused on our state as a whole staying competitive in the tourism arena of attracting and retaining conventions and events,” said Gahl. “Alongside the Indiana Sports Corp, we have tracked an emergence of bid funds successfully created and successfully taking away wins from our state.”