Indiana and Orange County Convention Centers Get Ready to Grow

October 25, 2018

As cities across the U.S. continue to make significant investments in major expansions and upgrades to their convention centers in order to better compete for group business, two more facilities are joining the flurry of construction projects.  

Last week, the city of Indianapolis announced plans to expand the Indiana Convention Center and build two new hotel towers that will add more than 1,400 connected hotel rooms to the city’s room inventory.

The ICC’s new 50,000 square foot ballroom will be the largest in the state, while the additional hotel towers will increase the city’s number of rooms connected by enclosed skywalks from 4,700 to more than 6,100 and its hotel properties from 12 to 14.

“The combination of what will be the state’s largest ballroom and two additional hotel towers connected by enclosed skywalk will transform our ability to secure major new events that have never been held in Indy,” said Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy. 

He added, “It also gives us the capacity to better host multiple citywide conventions at the same time and help us retain nearly $300 million in annual convention and event business.”

The project was green-lighted after the Capital Improvement Board of Managers (CIB), a municipal corporation of Marion County responsible for financing and managing capital improvements, unanimously approved a recommendation from a bid review team to move forward with negotiations with local developer Kite Realty Group Trust to expand the convention center on the site of downtown Indy’s Pan Am Plaza. 

This expansion will be the Indiana Convention Center’s sixth since opening in 1972.

While the facility currently offers three ballrooms totaling about 61,000 sq. ft. of function space, since 2010, Visit Indy has been unable to bid on more than 200 conventions and events interested in meeting in the city due to hotel room inventory and/or ballroom space requirements, according to Hoops.

This expansion will allow the CVB to re-engage these groups, which collectively could generate up to $1.1 billion in future economic impact for the region and state, he added. 

While an existing commercial office building will remain on the site, Kite also proposed adding two new hotels on the property – a 38-story tower with a reflective glass exterior that will include multiple levels of retail and a rooftop bar offering the only high-rise view from the southwest side of downtown, and a second tower that would anchor the opposite corner of the block, across from Union Station on the west side of Illinois Street. 

The new hotels are expected to be Hilton-affiliated brands that will be linked to the ICC by a climate-controlled connector across Capitol Avenue, according to Visit Indy officials.

Indy hotels

The recommendation comes after two years of research that included customer focus groups and surveys, a convention center and hotel demand analysis commissioned by Visit Indy and a 10-month bid process to more than 40 developers. 

“We received three extremely competitive proposals that all satisfied the requirements of the RFI,” said Melina Kennedy, CIB Board president.

She continued, “The proposal selected best activates the south side of the Indiana Convention Center given its high-profile location and direct connection across Capitol Avenue. We believe both of these components are crucial to our continued success as a convention and events destination.”

Estimated at $120 million, the budget for the expansion includes public infrastructure improvements and the construction of the new publicly-owned facility and connector.

“While we are still early in the process of discussing the operational impact of this exciting proposal with local and state leadership, the city believes this capital expenses for this project could be funded by the property tax increment generated from the new development site and the re-allocation of some portion of the existing Downtown TIF funds already dedicated for the CIB on an annual basis,” explained Thomas Cook, chief of staff for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Although the project timeline has not been finalized, the CIB will begin working with the city and Kite to obtain all the necessary agreements and legislative approvals sometime next year.  

Following the completion of that process, construction is expected to take about three years.  

Meanwhile, the Orange County Convention Center is moving forward with its planned North-South Building Improvements project after a budget was approved last week. 

Earlier this year, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved Orlando Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ proposed budget of a $605 million Capital Improvement Plan that will fund the construction of two projects designed to improve and enhance the facility’s North-South Building, including:

  • Convention Way Grand Concourse: an enclosed connection between the North and South concourses that includes additional meeting space and an 80,000 sq. ft. ballroom with a grand entrance to the North-South building along Convention Way.
  • Multipurpose Venue: a 200,000 sq. ft., flexible, divisible, column-free space with a combination of retractable and floor seating to accommodate between 18,000-20,000 guests. This project will also incorporate connectivity between the North and South Concourses. 

“We spent the last two years talking with clients and evaluating our own campus to find the best projects that will help us maintain our spot as the No. 1 meeting destination in the country,” explained Jessie Allen, interim executive director for the OCCC.

He continued, “Securing the funding will enable us to ramp up for an exciting time of development and growth at the Center of Hospitality.” 

A timeline for construction on the project has yet to be announced.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.