Major project would expand convention center downtown, add pair of hotels

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indianapolis plans some new additions to the downtown area, including more convention center space and a pair of hotels.

The plans, revealed and approved at Friday’s Capital Improvement Board meeting, call for an expansion of the convention center on Pan Am Plaza and a pair of Hilton-branded hotels.

“We believe that if we’re not planning for tomorrow today, we’re already going to fall behind our competitors,” CIB President Melina Kennedy said. “There are hundreds of conventions that we have tried to lure to Indianapolis that we can’t because we haven’t had enough capacity.”

The additions would allow the city to host two major conventions at the same time, Visit Indy leaders said. The hotels would add more than 1,400 rooms to the downtown area. One hotel would go along Illinois and Georgia streets. The second would be located on the southeast corner of Pan Am Plaza. Renderings from Kite Realty, which owns Pan Am Plaza, showed a striking tower that would reshape the city skyline.

“There are particular vertical markets like medical associations and others that have told us for quite some time that you’re just one or two big hotels away … from being able to host our convention (and ) you’re not quite ‘sexy’ enough,” Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops said.

The convention center expansion would include a 50,000-square-foot ballroom and a climate-controlled walkway across Capitol Avenue. Other additions include auxiliary meeting rooms and a full kitchen as well as pre-function and support space. The expansion will cover more than 300,000 square feet, according to the CIB.

The CIB approved a measure moving forward on the project, which would include a $120 million public cost, with the rest being shouldered by the developer. A total cost of the project was not released.

Officials said there were no additional taxes or fees expected to help pay for the project, with funding coming from new property taxes generated from the development site and a “re-allocation” of existing Downtown TIF funds for the CIB.

“It’s not anything where we anticipate needing to even have a discussion about tax increases or fee increases on residents or non-residents,” said Thomas Cook, Chief of Staff to Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Friday’s recommendation to proceed with the project follows a 10-month process that began in January. The CIB received three proposals and ultimately decided to go with Kite as master developer.

Officials hope the expansion will help Indianapolis attract new convention business and retain its high-profile events. According to Hoops, the city has lost out on more than 200 conventions since 2010 because of issues with the number of downtown hotel rooms or ballroom space requirements.

“I think we’ll have a heck of a lot of rooms sold before these buildings ever open their doors,” Hoops said.

As for a timeline, Kite President Thomas McGowan said negotiations and planning for the project will take a year, and construction is estimated to take at least three years.

“It’s a complex deal, there’s a lot of work ahead of us to get this accomplished,” McGowan said.

The legislature will also need to be briefed, and the CIB expected they will ask for investment from the state in the upcoming budget session.

“How that will be parsed between different entities, we’re still working through, and that’ll be the next level that we move to after the vote today,” Kennedy said.

If all goes as planned, the project could open between 2023-2025. Hoops said his team at Visit Indy has already sold a large convention of ear, nose, and throat doctors on the premise that this type of project would be underway soon.

“They took a chance on us a couple weeks ago and signed with us for 2025,” Hoops said.

For more information on the proposal and to view renderings, you can visit the CIB website here.