Over the next two years, Indianapolis’s convention infrastructure will transform into what city officials hope will be a top-tier meetings destination and one of the most pedestrian-friendly convention cities in the country. The city is in the process of expanding its convention center and a building a new downtown stadium for exhibitions and events. The projects will cost $1 billion and nearly double the amount of exhibit space. Also, some 1,500 new hotel rooms are being built around the convention center—all within walking distance of the center and stadium.

New Stadium to Host Meetings

The first project is the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, which is slated to open August 15, 2008. While this 63,000 seat, retractable-roof stadium--the new home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts-- will also have 13,000 square feet of meeting space in 12 meeting rooms and 183,000 square feet of exhibit space. It will be connected to the expanded Indiana Convention Center as well as eight downtown hotels via enclosed walkways. The stadium features a 3-acre retractable roof—the widest expanse of its kind in the country—and a massive 200-foot wide, 50-foot wide window on one end.

Doug Bennett, vice president of sales at the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Authority, says the stadium space will be used primarily for standalone state and regional events. By accommodating these space-heavy, hotel room-light regional events, it will take pressure off the convention center, says Bennett. However, it also gives the destination the ability to handle mega-events that require space in both venues. Lucas Oil Stadium will be used for events 185 to 200 days a year, he adds.

This June, just before the new stadium opens, the old stadium, the RCA Dome, will be demolished, making way for the expansion of the convention center. The expansion will be built right where the RCA Dome currently stands and will connect to the new stadium. The expanded center will add 254,000 square feet of exhibit space bringing the total to 564,000. Add in the 183,000 square feet of exhibit space at Lucas Oil Stadium and the complex boasts 747,000 square feet of exhibit space. Currently, the convention center and RCA Dome combined has 403,700 square feet of exhibit space.

The plan also calls for the addition of 35 meeting rooms, bringing the amount of meeting space to 188,000 square feet in the expanded center and new stadium, up from 141,000 currently. The ratio of meeting space to exhibit space will increase from 26 percent to 30 percent.

The convention center expansion, which will be completed in the fall of 2010, will not disrupt meetings and events booked at the center during construction as the main center will remain intact. “This is not our first rodeo,” says Bennett, explaining that it’s the fifth time the center has been expanded. Because of that experience, he expects the expansion to be less intrusive than past projects. During the two-year construction time frame, three groups moved their meetings to later years.

Walkability

Also in 2010, a four-hotel complex of Marriott hotels will open near the center, anchored by a 1,000 room J.W. Marriott. Three other Marriott properties—Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn, and a Courtyard—will add another 568 rooms. All four hotels will be connected to the center via enclosed walkways giving the city more than 5,000 hotel rooms at 12 hotels connected to the convention center. Overall, there are about 8,000 hotel rooms downtown. “Walkability is a major marketing tool for a us,” says Bennett. Based on a feasibility study, the expansion will allow the center to accommodate 55 to 60 major groups per year, up from 40 groups now when capacity is at about 70 percent, states Bennett. It will allow the city to book about 700,000 room nights annually, up from 500,000 now. The expansion debt will be paid off by hotel room and restaurant taxes.

Overall, the expanded center and Lucas Oil Stadium will have 1.2 million square feet of meeting, exhibit, and pre-function space, up from the current 545,000 square feet. The expansion will transform the center from its current standing as the 33rd largest in the country to 16th, which officials hope will enable Indianapolis to become a top tier convention destination.