DALLAS, Texas. - With the winding down of the National Rifle Association’s 147th annual conference in Dallas this weekend, the gun rights organization will now set its sights on Indianapolis in 2019.
Next April, an estimated 80,000 NRA members are expected to pass through the doors of the Indiana Convention Center leaving behind an economic impact anticipated in excess of $55 million.
It's been four years since the NRA has met in Indianapolis.
“They are thrilled to be coming back,” said Joyce Russell, Director of East Coast Sales for Visit Indy. “They had a great experience in 2014, so we’ve heard lots of comments about how great the hotels were connected to the convention center, the great restaurants and how clean and safe everything was.”
Within six months of the last convention, the NRA made the unprecedented decision to return to Indianapolis two more times in the coming decade in 2019 and 2023.
“I think they’re gonna get a great reception,” said Brian Perry, of Greenwood ,who drove with three friends from Johnson County to attend the Dallas convention. “I think the Hoosiers are gonna welcome them with open arms. I understand they’ve been there before and we’ve run into a couple people here who’ve mentioned Indy and they loved it so I think they’re gonna get a great reception in Indy.”
Jimmy Rodgers of Franklin struck up a conversation with an NRA member who said she was looking forward to the Indianapolis show in 2019.
“We were telling her about Indiana and how our gun laws are compared to these gun laws and trying to help people.”
Indianapolis Colts placekicker, avid hunter and likely NFL Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri signed autographs on the floor of the NRA exhibit and looked forward to meeting other NRA supporters at the Indiana Convention Center a block away from Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I’ll definitely be excited to be back in Indy next year for it. That’s home for me and that’s where I raise my family,” Vinatieri said.
After the Parkland, Florida, school massacre in February when 17 people were killed, Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway called for his city to disinvite the NRA.
His proposal resulted in death threats.
Published reports indicate the Dallas tourism bureau underwrote most of the nearly $400,000 rent the NRA was charged for its use of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
The NRA’s contract with Visit Indy is confidential and key information was blacked out from the copy provided to us.
“What you’ll see redacted in a document like this, competitive rates, what the city is charging per square foot in the Indiana Convention Center, hotel rates, again, this is to keep Indianapolis competitive so that the next time we get to bid to host a major convention, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, Detroit doesn’t have our blueprint, how we price things,” said Visit Indy Senior Vice President Chris Gahl. “This has been a time tested piece of our success how we stay competitive.”
The contract also includes certain inducements and gratuities granted the NRA as one of the top three money making conventions in Indianapolis on an annual basis.
“I would say that they pay a healthy amount and based on them renewing not only for ‘19 but also ’23, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship and one that both sides are profitable,” said Gahl. “Both sides are happy.”
In Dallas, Russell supervised the Visit Indy booth outside an entrance to the main exhibit floor at the convention center where 2019 attendees were already confirming reservations in sold out downtown Indianapolis hotels.
“We were very busy Thursday and Friday,” she said. “There are 7100 hotel rooms. 4700 of those rooms are connected to the convention center.”
As in Dallas, NRA members will exercise the option to be armed while attending the 148th Annual Meeting next April.
“Whomever is renting the Indiana Convention Center, and in this case Lucas Oil Stadium, its up to them on what measures they want in place on the firearms policy,” said Gahl. “They’ll have their layer of security, what the state law is, what the building law is and what the NRA’s wishes are in terms of bringing firearms inside the building.”
During last week’s appearances by Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump in Dallas, the Secret Service mandated that NRA members be disarmed before entering the arena where the White House duo spoke.
NRA rules mandate that all weapons displayed on the exhibit floor are rendered inoperative and guns may be ordered but not purchased at the show.
“Right now we went ahead and made our hotel reservations so we could get a nice hotel close to the convention center,” said Steve Edlestein of Horn, Texas, after logging off a computer at the Visit Indy booth in Dallas and confirming his room for next year’s convention. “We’re leaving a day early and not leaving until the convention shuts down so we’ll be there for five days.”