Indianapolis Drives To Grow Nationwide Convention Profile

Indianapolis' $3 billion-plus development, including an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center and the construction of a new JW Marriott, will significantly change the city's competitive position for meeting and convention site selection, officials said.

"We're now going head-to-head with Chicago on a more frequent basis, and with Denver, San Antonio and in some cases Orlando," said Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association associate director of communications Chris Gahl, pointing to average daily hotel rates of $128 this year and $130 last year and calling Indianapolis a "first-tier city with second-tier affordability."

The development is in response to growing business demand and in preparation to host Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012."We want to make sure the city is as sharp as we can make it in anticipation of all the major events and conventions," Gahl said.

The Indiana Convention Center expansion, which began in December 2008, is a $250 million construction project that will double the size of the center, providing 566,660 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, 11 exhibit halls, 71 meeting rooms and three ballrooms.

Coupled with Lucas Oil Stadium, there is an additional 183,000 square feet of exhibit space, two exhibit halls and 12 meetings rooms, making the stadium and convention center the 16th largest facility in the country.

The stadium and convention center will be connected by an underground walkway extending about 100 yards.

Officials anticipate that the expanded convention center will be able to hold more than 80 major tradeshows a year, including the education conference of the American Library Association, with 11,000 attendees and 8,000 hotel rooms booked for 2021.

After the expected completion in early 2011 of the $450 million development of the Marriott Place Indianapolis complex, there will be a total of 12 convention hotels connected by skyway to the convention center.

The complex will add 1,626 more rooms in four new Marriott-branded hotels, with a 297-room Courtyard by Marriott, a 168-room Fairfield Inn & Suites, a 156-room SpringHill Suites, and as the anchor to the complex, the 1,005-room JW Marriott Downtown Indianapolis. The additions will bring the number of hotel rooms connected to the convention center to 4,700.

The JW Marriott Downtown Indianapolis will feature a 40,500-sq.-ft. ballroom, making it the largest in the state of Indiana, and will be the seventh-tallest building in Indianapolis at 376 feet with 34 floors.

Other downtown hotels, like the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis and the Westin Indianapolis, have also prepared for the expansion and growing demand.

"In the last 24 months, we've seen about $70 million in hotel renovation," Gahl said. "They're all polishing themselves up anticipating these major events and the competitive nature that the new JW Marriott complex will bring."

Among other local developments is the new Lucas Oil Field Stadium and a new terminal under construction at Indianapolis International Airport.

The $725 million Lucas Oil Field , home to the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts, opened in August 2008.

The facility features a retractable roof and sliding glass window opening that will allow for a view of the skyline of downtown Indianapolis. The stadium will host the 2012 Super Bowl and two NCAA basketball Final Fours: the men's in 2010 and the women's in 2011.

The newly constructed $1.1 million Indianapolis International Airport Col. H. Weir Cook Terminal will contribute to additional accessibility to the convention center with $7 Green Line shuttle bus service. The first airport terminal designed and built after Sept. 11, 2001, the terminal will employ new security features by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, which the airport will need to be able to handle expected traffic of 12 million passengers per year.

Gahl said construction remains on schedule despite the economic downturn. "Development is on time, on budget, and we're going full speed ahead," he said. Development plans will continue to the end of late 2010, and at the latest, early 2011.

Originally published July 27, 2009