Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association


May 06 2013

Indy: A City Redefined

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

Indianapolis is not Indianapolis anymore.

This is what Leonard Hoops, President and CEO, Visit Indy, tells me as I take in the view from his office that overlooks Georgia Street in Indiana’s capitol.

“It’s Indy,” Hoops says.

Hoops is a Hoosier transplant. The former CMO of the Sacramento CVB, it hasn’t taken long for him to fall in love with his new Midwestern home. In fact, he was already impressed long before he arrived. Years ago, he visited the city when Sacramento was studying how Indy had managed to secure the funds to build a new basketball arena.

“I came back from that trip and told my Board, ‘Sacramento dreams, and Indianapolis does,’ and I told my wife that Indy was one of the few cities I would consider relocating for a new job,” Hoops says.

Now, that he’s here, that initial feeling has been confirmed. From a massive convention center expansion to Super Bowl XLVI, Indy has shined in the national spotlight.

“This city continues to figure out how to make things happen to make it a better place to live and to visit,” Hoops says.

The Personal Inspiration of Indy

Hoops isn’t the only one who’s singing praises of the rebirth of the Circle City, though. After spending three days there in late March, I am, too.

I’m no stranger to Indy, though. I was born just 45 minutes south. While I’ve always been proud to call Indiana home, it’s often been in a sense of self-deprecation. To outsiders, the biggest city in the state has long been known as a place with a speedway and lots of race fans, and I’ve been quick to poke fun at my middle-America, heartland roots.

That’s no more, though. In just three days, I managed to see world-renowned exhibits at the Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana State Museum, tour Lucas Oil Stadium as Indy prepared to host the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and meet a range of residents who are proud of the progress they’ve been part of over the past few years.

“This is a city on the rise,” my bartender at Ralston’s Drafthouse on Massachusetts Avenue says as he pours me a Sun King Cream Ale, a local favorite. “Indy isn’t struggling to compete anymore. We’re on the map, and people are recognizing our only-in-Indy character.”

He’s right. Indy now breathes with the same authentic spirit that you’ll find in cities like Portland, Denver and Austin. Just ask Karen Haley, the executive director of the recently completed Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

“I’ve seen so much change since I moved to Indianapolis,” Haley, an Atlanta transplant who relocated to Indianapolis five years ago, says. “There’s a huge focus on farm-to-table food. The restaurants here are just incredible, and of course, I’m really excited to see so many residents and guests taking advantage of the cultural trail to get around the city and get exercise.”

Well, “trail” may be an understatement. This is no simple path. The city removed a full lane of traffic to finish this eight-mile byway that connects the five downtown cultural districts. As the plans for the trail came together, urban planners from around the world took notice.

“There’s really nothing like this in the world,” Andy Wiley-Schwartz, vice president of New York-based Project for Public Spaces, said. “This is an amazing vision that will transform Indianapolis.”

Wiley-Schwartz was correct. During my visit to Indy, I didn’t need a car. I never needed to call a cab. The city was right outside my door at The Alexander, a LEED-certified property that redefines the hotel experience with more than 40 works of contemporary at curated by the renowned Indianapolis Museum of Art.

It sounds like getting around is going to get even easier, too. Rumors are swirling that Indy will soon welcome the hallmark of urban convenience to its downtown: a bike-sharing service.

Where Medical Meetings Are Meant to Be

As the city continues to grow, so, too, does its group business. In the middle of the convention center expansion in 2010, Indy’s room-night production clocked in at 650,000. In 2013, the city is aiming for 780,000.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the life sciences and medical industries, too. With names like Eli Lilly, Dow Agro Sciences and Cook Medical calling Indy home, medical meeting planners can count on a city with a built-in audience of healthcare professionals. That audience has been growing at a record pace, too. Over the past 10 years, the number of healthcare employees in Indianapolis’ has grown by 34 percent to more than 100,000 workers.

“You can’t understate the role that Eli Lilly has played in the continuing growth of this city,” Chris Gahl, vice president, marketing and communications, Visit Indy, says. “We have a growing life science and biotechnology segment.”

A City You Should Put On Your Map

I’ve written about meetings. I’ve attended meetings. I’ve listened to plenty of pitches about why a location is the place have a meeting, and I’ll be honest: in many cases, I don’t see it.

With Indy, though, I do. People are proud to call Indy home. Planners are happy to simplify their lives with a walkable and affordable destination. And of course, attendees are discovering what I learned on my most recent trip: Indianapolis isn’t Indianapolis anymore. 

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the official Visit Indy website. When you’re there for a site visit, here are my top recommendations:

Brunch: Morning fuel or ultimate hangover cure - - you decide. At Patachou, early morning eaters can decide between health-nut plate like vanilla soy-substituted granola or hearty broken yolk breakfast sandwiches. Regardless, I vote you should indulge with a side of cinnamon toast.

Brews: You can tell a lot about a city by its craft beer scene, and Indy has no shortage of watering holes where you’ll find an array of locally-brewed tastes. My top choice is the new Fountain Square Brewery. Don’t miss out on the Hop for Teacher Pale Ale.

Bites: R Bistro gives farm-to-table a new meaning. With an urban garden just outside its doors, many of the fresh ingredients you’ll find in the recipes here don’t have to travel far to make it to your plate.

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