Massive racing industry expo growing, pondering expansion to Lucas Oil Stadium

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The Performance Racing Industry Show has grown every year since it moved back to Indianapolis in 2013 from Orlando, Florida, and this year will be no exception, the show’s organizers said.

The PRI Show, set for Dec. 8-10 this year, is already one of the city’s biggest convention draws, and sources close to the event say growth is significant enough that it could challenge Gen Con as the city’s biggest convention in terms of economic impact.

“This year’s show is tracking great. We’ve filled up all the exhibit halls and space, including meeting rooms, and we continue to look for more space within the facility,” said Bill Miller, PRI’s general manager.

Since PRI’s return, attendance has grown from 40,000 in 2013 to 49,000 in 2014 to nearly 56,000 last year, according to Visit Indy. Attendance this year is expected to approach 60,000.

The convention center has 566,000 square feet of exhibit space and another 140,000 square feet of meeting space. This year, the PRI Show is using all the exhibit space and, for the first time since its return to Indianapolis, all of the meeting rooms inside the convention center. It's also expanding into the facility’s “corridors and thoroghfares,” according to Miller.

A source close to the show said there will be about 100 more booths—3,300 total—this year than last. And this year, Miller said, the show will take up more outdoor space for trailers, many of which double as showrooms on wheels. For the first time, the show’s organizers will use the entire block of Georgia Street stretching east from the convention center as well as the lot between the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Local hospitality officials said they expect this year’s show to have an economic impact of just above $70 million. That's within $1 million or so of the economic impact of the giant gaming confab Gen Con, which drew about 61,000 people to the city this year.

Fear not, Miller said. The PRI Show isn't going anywhere.

After a seven-year run in Indianapolis, the PRI Show in 2004 moved to Orlando to accommodate growth and enjoy warmer weather. But the move backfired and the show—after an initial growth spurt—declined in attendance and exhibitors until returning to Indianapolis in 2013.

The show has a contract to be here until 2021, but Miller is hopeful the show will be here longer than that.

“This show will be in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future,” Miller told IBJ. “The setup of the downtown and the convention center in Indianapolis is great. The staffs at Visit Indy and the convention center are tremendous to work with. On top of that, Indianapolis is known for racing. That’s where the show should be.”

Indianapolis is also ideal due to its central location and the relatively cheap cost of hotel rooms, PRI officials and attendees said.

“It’s important that attending this event be cost-effective for our members,” Miller said. “We really like the hotel and restaurant selection here. That’s very important to us and our members.”

PRI officials have changed course on one important thing. While the show was in Orlando, PRI officials told IBJ on multiple occasions that Lucas Oil Stadium was simply too far away to use for the show. Even last year, PRI officials said they were not considering an expansion to the stadium.

But on Tuesday, Miller told IBJ that possibility is now being discussed, although he emphasized nothing is imminent. Gen Con’s use of Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time this year might have changed PRI officials’ minds.

“We do keep [expanding into Lucas Oil Stadium] open as an option,” Miller said. “You can’t go over there with 10 exhibitors. You have to have enough critical mass for it to make sense.”

There's 183,000 square feet of exhibit space and 12 meeting rooms in the stadium in addition to the football field and mezzanine level entertaining spaces, which the PRI Show does use for two receptions.

Miller called the distance between the convention center and stadium “modest,” but added that it would be critical to put attractions in the nearly block-long hallway that connects the two facilities to make it work.

There’s a big plus that makes the stadium attractive to PRI.

“With Lucas Oil already involved in the stadium, and the company having such a big presence in racing, it’s already decorated,” Miller said. “From that standpoint, with all the Lucas Oil cars and racing items there, it’s perfect.”

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