INDIANAPOLIS — 55,000 people, most of them teenagers wearing distinctive jackets with patches from across the nation, will descend on downtown Indianapolis this week as the Future Farmers of America holds its annual conference for the first time in two years.
“Like so many other traditions, the sight of purple FFA jackets exploring our downtown, well, it was sorely missed in 2020,” Mayor Joe Hogsett told attendees during a morning welcoming session on Monument Circle. “Welcome back to Indianapolis, we are so happy to see you again, heartfelt happiness.”
The mayor’s “heartfelt happiness” will be supplemented by the estimated $30 million impact the convention is expected to have on Indianapolis’ economy.
“This community, this state, this nation, needs events like this to bring back a sense of renewal, a sense of connectiveness, a sense of hope,” said FFA CEO Scott Stump, a graduate of Purdue University. “That’s what we intend to do over the next few days.”
Through Sunday, the FFA will fill the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium and Gainbridge Fieldhouse as well as hundreds of hotel rooms throughout Indianapolis.
“We have tracked September at 63% occupancy downtown,” said Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl. “That’s really getting closer to pre-pandemic levels and so its with that in mind that businesses are opening back up.”
Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse at 51 North Illinois Street is set to take reservations this weekend for the first time since rioting rocked downtown in the spring of 2020.
A new Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites at West and Vermont Streets near the IUPUI campus are expected to open by the end of the year, and Hotel Indy at 141 East Washington Street welcomed its first guests this month.
Gahl said a convention headquarters hotel connected to the Indiana Convention Center on Pan Am Plaza is still on track for a late 2022 groundbreaking.
“Indy has stayed on track. We’re fully back on track,” said Gahl, metaphorically linking the city’s racing tradition with its rebound from the pandemic economic slowdown. “Its groups like the Professional Racing Industry Trade Show in December that say, ‘We’re ready to go,’ its groups like the Big Ten Football championship, ready to go, college football playoffs, 76 days away and counting, they’re ready to go 100% occupancy.”
“Indiana and Indianapolis will be the center of the universe again come January when we host the college football championship game on January 10th,” said Governor Eric Holcomb.
Gahl cited $7 million spent by the city of Indianapolis to first clean and seal off the convention center in the early days of the pandemic and then later gradually reopen in a COVID-safe style in the summer of 2020 with encouraging conventioneers and visitors to return downtown.
“We’re now up to 223 live conventions and events inside the Indiana Convention Center,” he said. “National FFA marks 717,000 attendees we will safely move through that facility safely.”
Governor Holcomb cited hopes that the pandemic is easing just as the city and state’s convention business is bouncing back.
“There’s some encouraging signs that as the numbers tick down and we have a vaccine that is the answer to everyone that wants it,” he said.
Gahl said that by this time next year, local convention and visitor industry revenues should be approaching their pre-pandemic levels.
“They’ll be about thirty percent less than 2019 if everything shakes out, but we’ll be healthier than 2020,” he said. “By the third or fourth quarter of 2022, we’ll be fully recovered, and that’s based on our convention books.”