Convention Center expansion and hotels seen as investment in Indy’s future after COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS – Local tourism officials are applauding the Indianapolis City-County Council’s unanimous approval for up to $155 million in bonds to expand the Indiana Convention Center in the heart of downtown.

The planned expansion would also change Pan Am Plaza by adding a 50,000 square foot ballroom and 93,500 square feet of meeting space, connected to the Convention Center by a walkway over Capital Avenue. 

Kite Realty Group would pay for the construction of an 800 room Hilton Signia hotel.  Construction on the initial phase of the project would begin in 2022 and finish in 2024.  Kite Realty would then pay for the construction of a second, 600 room hotel a few years later.

The Council’s approval moves the plan another step forward, with a final vote from scheduled October 7 by the Metropolitan Development Commission.

The move also comes as the local convention and tourism industry are struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have tallied, to date, more than 330 conventions that have canceled,” said Visit Indy spokesperson Chris Gahl.  “That’s a stinging, more than 600 million dollars in lost economic impact.”

Even as the pandemic continues to force even planners to cancel, and hotels are struggling to book rooms, Gahl believes the Convention Center will put Indianapolis in a better position to recover from 2020’s devastating impacts.

Much of that rests in the timing of the expansion, which would presumably be complete after the tourism has returned to “normal.”

“Three reports published in recent weeks showing that tourism as a whole will rebound by 2023, if not sooner,” he said.

Currently, Indianapolis is able to bid on about 75 percent of the top 250 conventions in North America, Gahl said.  The expanded capacity created by this project will raise that to 82 percent.  That, he said, would unlock $1 billion in new convention and tourism business for Indianapolis once the expansion is complete.

We’ve shared this news with current conventions that are literally outgrowing the city,” Gahl said.  “Groups like FFA, FDIC, the fire department instructors conference, the NFL combine.”

“A lot of these conventions and major sporting events book seven to ten years in advance, so our ability to showcase what Indianapolis will look like in 2024, 2025 begins today,” Gahl continued.

University of Indianapolis Economics Professor, Matt Will says he’s not normally a fan of governments borrowing money for projects.  In this case, he points out the Indiana Convention Center has been a solid investment over the years.

“This is easily going to pay for itself,” Will said.  “That’s the reason Kite Realty is interested in fronting the money for the hotel.  It’s a good investment.  You know this all assumes that we get back to normal at some point.”

“This is a long term investment because things will return to normal, people will come back to Indianapolis and we’re going to need the space,” Will continued.

Gahl said event planners are banking on a return to some level of “normal” next year, as many conventions are still on the calendar for the second quarter of 2021.

“To have the tenacity, to think forward and put this project in place is emblematic of what Indianapolis has done for decades,” Gahl said,  “including building an NFL stadium without an NFL team.”

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