Thousands of Gen Con guests to generate millions for downtown Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS – Gamers rejoice! Gen Con, the four-day gaming convention, is back!

The annual gathering was tabled last year amid the pandemic, but this year, it’s back as up to 35,000 gamers will fill the Indiana Convention Center while revitalizing downtown business in the process.

“It’s an obvious impact when we have either a small convention or even bigger things like Gen Con. So these are very, very critical to the downtown restaurant scene,” said Jason Benish, vice president of operations at Huse Culinary. “Every convention or sporting event that has happened throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen on a sales graph, it’s a huge surge in business for all of us.”

The streets of downtown Indianapolis have been transformed into a living game board for the next four days at least.

“From Thursday through Sunday, we’ll be probably having about 45 or so hours worth of gaming. Excited doesn’t, I mean, this is, this is something my son and I look forward to all year long for sure,” said Gen Con visitor Michael Clark. “We love Indianapolis. It’s a great place to have it.”

The Clarks traveled from Dallas for the convention. It’s a trip the father and son have made for years, only last year, they couldn’t.

“We were very disappointed, but obviously with COVID and the pandemic, we understood why they couldn’t, didn’t feel safe to hold it,” Clark said. “We’re well aware right now that even though Gen Con is back, not everything is the same.

“We know there’s a staffing issue at most restaurants and everything, and some have had to reduce their hours, but we’re okay with that. We love it here and are happy to support them. Every year, you know, we’ll take a stop in all of our favorites as one of our things to do.”

Their favorite stop, St. Elmo Steak House, surely missed their business. 

“We view conventions and sporting events as a great first impression. We know that many of these events repeat, are annual, so making a great first impression on our visiting guests is so important,” Benish explained. “We love to get the guests out of the convention center, experience a little bit of the local restaurants here in Indianapolis, and again, a little bite to get them enticed to go inside and return next time.”

With more money in the till to put more meat on the grill, the visiting feet on city streets can only be viewed as a positive.

“Those visitors will generate $37 million in economic activity for the city of Indianapolis — much needed,” said Visit Indy Senior Vice President Chris Gahl. “And that feels good. That’s our mission is to drive tourism, and so from a Visit Indy perspective, from a tourism perspective, it’s a sense of pride that we can continue to invite these events, that they’re being hosted here in person, and they are generating visitor-related spending.”

Keeping those visitors safe, especially in mass quantity, also comes with a sense of pride.

“We have our playbook. We know what pages we need to execute. So that, the health and safety of our visitors, is paramount. It will always be,” Gahl said. “Over the last year, we’ve been working very closely with Gen Con, day in and day out, on making sure these four days are nothing but safe and healthy.”

To do this, all Gen Con guests will be required to wear masks at all times inside the convention center, and the capacity for which they can gather was slashed in half — capped at 35,000 guests. 

“People are just happy to be together and to be doing table-top gaming fun,” Gen Con President David Poppe said. “It’s just like back in the old days.” 

Gen Con officially starts Thursday. The Indiana Convention Center will open its doors at 7 a.m. for will call and the exhibit hall opens at 10 a.m.

The convention has a hybrid format this year, so on top of the in-person things happening here, there will also be gen con online virtual programming and more than 200 pop-up gen con events at different retails shops across the country. 

For in-person, there will be a reduced footprint with only 50 percent attendance capacity. 

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