Indianapolis Races to the Top

By Sara Delgado, September 28, 2018

When Visit Indy President and CEO Leonard Hoops compares Indianapolis to Paris, there’s not a speck of doubt in his voice.

Both cities are flat, landlocked, riverside and abundant in history. And while mountains and oceans do add visual appeal, they’re not required for a city to stand out. Hoops, who had previously worked at San Francisco Travel Association as chief customer officer for four years, credits Indy’s recognition as a conventions hub to the work of previous mayor and U.S. Senator Richard Lugar.

“As manufacturing was phasing out of Indianapolis, he laid out a path so that Indy would be the biggest event and convention destination in America,” says Hoops. Flash forward 40 years and the downtown area alone spans 7,100 hotel rooms, 4,700 of which are connected and within a few minutes’ walk of the 749,000-sq.-ft. Indianapolis Convention Center.

A City with a Plan

When Visit Indy’s team pulled up all of the bids they’d made for the convention center from the last two years, they discovered that their top five competitors for a citywide now are Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Denver. That wasn’t their comp set 10 years ago.

“All of a sudden my friends in Chicago, Atlanta and Denver were struck, like ‘Wait, we’re bidding against Indy?’” Hoops remarked. The city has experienced a number of turning points in the last 10 years from the debuts of the Indianapolis International Airport and Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 to hosting the Super Bowl in 2012.

While new airports, stadiums and hosting a Super Bowl would trigger significant growth for any town; what makes Indianapolis one to watch is its commitment to a sustainable growth tourism model. For the last four years, Visit Indy has been hard at work on a Tourism Master Plan.

The plan lays out seven strategies that revolve around five guiding principles. After conducting interviews with stake holders, Visit Indy opened its ears to the general public and received over 2,500 responses. The item that resonated most was the development of White River Park, a 250-acre outdoor venue and greenway that runs along the 58-mile White River. And the results are already showing, the park recently hosted the opening ceremony of MPI’s 2018 World Education Congress.

In With the Old and In With the New

In Indianapolis, it’s not about what’s old or what’s new. Its amenities, respectively, date back as far as Slippery Noodle, a blues bar founded in 1850, to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an urban bike and pedestrian path connecting the six “cultural” neighborhoods that met its 8-mile completion in 2013.

Along the ICT, bikers and pedestrians can capture views of the city, participate in food tours and interact with art along the pathway.

The same goes for food. While there is an assortment of historic restaurants in Indy like St. Elmo’s Steak House, over the last five years, a wave of chefs have assembled a community of James Beard nominated restaurants like Milktooth and Bluebeard along Virginia Avenue. And while major hotel brands do dominate the city, construction for one of the nation’s six West Elm hotels recently broke ground in an abandoned Coca-Cola plant. Catering to a more contemporary audience, the hotel will feature local art and a rooftop bar.

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