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Fight continues over new downtown Indianapolis hotels

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Visit Indy, the entity that sells Indianapolis conventions and tourism to the world, is locking horns with downtown hotel owners over the new Hilton hotel.

Hilton Hotels has been given the green light to build two hotels with 1,400 rooms on Pan Am Plaza, a change to the Indy skyline that many viewed as a win.

“If we do not grow and grow strategically we will lose convention business, we will lose major sporting events and that would not be good for tourism as a whole,” said Chris Gahl of Visit Indy.  

But existing hotel owners and operators like Bruce White, whose company owns or manages more than 40 percent of the downtown hotel rooms that connect to the Indiana Convention Center, disagree. 

“So we are concerned about a 38 percent growth in supply, which is extraordinary, and as far as I know unprecedented in the United States,” said White. 

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Pan Am Plaza is probably the last plot of open space in Indianapolis that easily connects to the convention center, so there is no question the space is valuable. 

“This parcel is very, very important to the longevity of Indianapolis from a tourism and major sporting events standpoint. Connecting into the convention center is what our city leaders 30 years ago commanded us to do as a city,” said Gahl.

“I think if there is a fight, I think that leadership has failed and personally I think leadership has failed in allowing it to come to this point. This could have been avoided, could have been, should have been avoided and we should have done what has historically been done in Indianapolis, which is get everyone at the table and surface all the issues and put together projects that work for everybody,” said White.

The hotel owners say more rooms will set off a downhill slide for downtown, with fewer taxes collected, employee layoffs and reduced investment in current hotels. But Gahl says if we don’t expand the downtown decline is almost certain. 

“If we do not grow and grow strategically, we will lose convention business, we will lose major sporting events and that would not be good for tourism as a whole,” said Gahl. 

Hilton plans to open the new hotel in 2023.

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