Study looking into need for more hotel rooms, convention expansion downtown

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - After a record number of visitors last year. Indianapolis is trying to stay competitive when it comes to luring big events and conventions.

Visit Indy commissioned a $75,000 study into the need for more hotel rooms and more space at the convention center downtown.

Indianapolis hosts around 550 such events each year. Some conventions are growing so fast, participants are being forced to book hotels in the suburbs because downtown hotels sell out.

For example. Gen Con 2016 brought more than 60,000 people to the Circle City. Many of the visitors booked early to ensure a room within walking distance to the convention center.

"Within a day or two they are virtually a sold out," said Phil Ray, general manager at the JW Marriott. "People are dying to get in and they want to be downtown if they can."

Similar stories played at hotels across the city. Some convention attendees booking rooms as far as Whitestown.

"We know,, at some point,  Gen Con could outgrow Indianapolis," said Chris Gahl, from Visit Indy. "That’s something we don’t like to hear,  but it is reality."

So, Visit Indy is taking action now to come with a strategic plan for the future of Indianapolis tourism. The months-long study will analyze the demand for hotel rooms and the whether expanding the convention center could bring new, larger conventions to town.

"We have a handful of conventions currently, and handful of events including Men’s Final Four, that could use more hotel rooms," Gahl said.

A similar study was done in the early 2000's. The findings led to major upgrades to the convention center, doubling its size. The same study pushed for a large hotel project, which became the JW Marriott.

Since then, Indianapolis has lost around 1000 hotel rooms.

Phil Ray, the general manager at the JW Marriott, was one of 2500 tourism leaders canvassed by Visit Indy.  Ray said this is all about finding the right balance.

"It’s great to have more hotel rooms but we think there’s probably a need to have the convention center expanded for more meeting rooms to support it year round," Ray said.

Gahl said Visit Indy feels a study is important so they can move forward in a strategic way.

"Too many rooms would cannibalize current inventory and be unsustainable," Gahl said. "Too few rooms would be counter productive."

The results of the study are expected by the end of the year.

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