Visit Indy, the city’s tourism arm, has commissioned a feasibility study on whether to expand the Indiana Convention Center for the second time since 2011, tourism officials confirmed this week.
It also will examine the need for additional Downtown hotel space after a nearly decadelong trend of rising occupancy, which has fueled the belief that there may be pent-up demand for hotel capacity in Indy.
The last such study, completed in 2004, resulted in a $275 million expansion of the center, as well as the development of the 1,000-room JW Marriott hotel.
In 2015, the tourism industry posted a record-setting year, booking more future hotel nights than ever before and securing a projected economic impact of nearly $1 billion.
Marion County hotel occupancy has climbed steadily since the expansion opened in 2011, hitting a peak of 69.1 percent through the first seven months of 2016. In 2011, hotels were 58.1 percent full.
In an interview with IndyStar, Leonard Hoops, the president and CEO of Visit Indy, said the study was commissioned in response to a series of stakeholder interviews during the tourism agency’s annual master planning process.
Consistently, he said, two issues “clearly had the strongest interest from customers and stakeholders … the potential hotel room growth, as well as the convention center expansion or modification.”
Hoops said it’s a delicate balance between having too many rooms and too few. Too many would depress profits for hotel operators, while too few could result in existing conventions leaving for greener pastures. If major conventions leave, the city could struggle to fill the rooms it already has.
“In addition to fulfilling latent demand that we can’t currently fill, there’s also the question of how long can you keep what we have with the existing inventory?” Hoops said. “How long can you keep a GenCon without growing your hotel inventory?”
GenCon, the country’s largest tabletop gaming convention with more than 61,000 attendees this year, was considering leaving Indy when its contract ran out in 2010 because of a lack of space. At this point, GenCon hasn’t completely filled the available exhibit space at the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium, but it has maxed out the hotel inventory.
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