The Indy Star published an interesting and balanced article today on the Indianapolis Convention Center, its expansion over time (there is a great interactive infographic on its expansions since 1972 at the end of the article), and its effects on tourism and visitation in Indianapolis.
The article makes the case that the Convention Center has largely been effective, and kept Indianapolis highly competitive as a second-tier destination, bringing in the desired revenue and visitation into the city.
However, at the same time, the article points out some of the long term challenges. First, convention center expansion in itself is a very expensive arms race — just as Indianapolis invests in expansion, its competitor cities are doing the same thing, and competing over essentially the same visitors. Second, the article points out some challenges more specific to Indianapolis. Indy is perceived as a bland Midwestern city — friendly, walkable, but not very exciting. It doesn’t have many natural assets, and those that it does have (the White River, for example) are very difficult to capitalize on. And of course, RFRA has harmed the state’s reputation and had some effect on convention business.
One thing that the article never addresses is the benefits and costs that the Convention Center and tourism in general has on residents. I have never seen good statistics (anywhere, not just with respect to Indianapolis) on how much tourism taxes (lodging, car rental, ticket taxes, and food and beverage) cost residents (vs. visitors). Clearly lodging and car rental taxes are paid primarily by visitors (although they are also indirectly paid for by businesses whose employees and consultants travel to Indianapolis). But what about food and beverage taxes? How much new revenue do they actually bring in, and how much goes to local residents?