Convention organizer says more hotel rooms needed in downtown Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — For 25 years the annual FDIC firefighters instructors conference has come to Indianapolis and plans to return annually until 2028.

Organizers said any commitment after that may depend on the city’s ability to add more hotel rooms connected to the Indiana Convention Center downtown.

“Indianapolis growing is really critical, and has been really critical, to our success and our growth out here. Our firefighters love this city,” said Eric Schlett, senior vice president of Clarion UX Fire & Rescue Group, the conference organizer.

“Literally our biggest hang up so far now is the fact that we are so limited on hotels in the downtown area. We could grow this thing bigger. We already bring about $43 million of economic impact into the city for the week that we come and that’s with 34,000 firefighters. If we had more rooms downtown we could blow this thing up to $50, $60 million economic impact for the city.”

Chris Gahl, senior vice president of Visit Indy, said he hears the same worries from other convention planners.

“It’s this one roof everything is under with connected hotel rooms that continues to help Indianapolis win major business,” he said. “They pay a premium for hotel rates. The city of Indianapolis is making money and keeping the hospitality workforce growing and working.”

Visit Indy estimated nearly 29 million people visited the city last year with an economic spin-off effect of $5.4 billion providing jobs for more than 81,000 people.

The top six conventions, including FDIC, are expected to attract 354,600 people to the convention center this year with an estimated economic impact of $281.5 million.

“We had our Harvard economist do a real healthy look at very conservatively how are we estimating economic impact,” said Gahl. “And so we’ve seen a decrease in all of our top ten conventions in terms of the economic impact based solely on a refinement to the way we calculate.”

But Gahl and Schlett agree that Indianapolis’ competitive position as a large-city convention destination could be set back by a lack of growth in its downtown hotel space.

“We love this town,” said Schlett. “We want to stay in this city, we’ve committed to saying we’ll be here until 2028, and it’s all contingent on the rooms. If I don’t get the rooms I’m gonna have to move and that’s the sad thing.”

The House Ways & Means Committee at the Statehouse voted this week to prohibit the city of Indianapolis from tapping into existing hotel tax revenues to help finance the construction of two Hilton-branded hotels adding 1,400 rooms on Pan Am Plaza.

Existing hoteliers cautioned that downtown hotel inventory would be overbuilt and their business would suffer.

Instead, the committee allowed legislation to go forward that would permit the Capitol Improvement Board to use tax increment financing revenues to fund the proposed $120 million expansion of the convention center, leaving Mayor Joe Hogsett and Kite Realty Group to come up with a new plan to pay for hotel construction.

When the FDIC wraps up Saturday, the Indiana Convention Center will have a little over a week to prepare for the 148th annual meeting of the NRA, an event that’s expected to attract 75,000 attendees and generate $35.3 million in revenue.

President Trump is scheduled to address the convention April 26.

The NRA first visited Indianapolis in 2014 and is slated to return in 2023, making the city the only location to host its annual conventions three times in a decade.

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