INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Visit Indy is ready to do what’s necessary to keep the city’s largest convention from skipping town.
Gen Con, known as “the best four days in gaming,” kicks off Thursday. It’s been in Indianapolis since 2003. Its current contract runs through 2020, but 2021 and beyond is already on Visit Indy’s radar.
Financially, Gen Con is expected to drop $67 million into the local economy, and it’s possible that number will only rise in the coming years, just like the amount of attendees.
But some worry that growth could actually force the convention to find another host city better suited for its size. Gen Con is expected to get 60,000-65,000 attendees this year, up to 15 percent more than the previous year, making it the seventh straight year the convention would have a new record for attendance.
“The crowds get larger, we get more exhibits, we get more gaming events, it just overall just gets bigger and better,” said Stacia Kirby, spokesperson for Gen Con.
But some worry “bigger and better” might actually hurt Indianapolis. A gaming podcast named “The Secret Cabal” felt Gen Con’s growth wasn’t a blessing, but a curse. In the podcast, the hosts worried that the convention would have to put a cap on how many people could attend. They also said people had been complaining that finding a hotel was getting more difficult each year. The hosts felt it was inevitable that Gen Con would move to another city.
But don’t tell that to Visit Indy. The tourism organization is ready to expand to keep the convention in town.
“We’ve already begun talking with Gen Con that if their footprint continues to grow, the next logical step would be to grow inside Lucas Oil Stadium,” said Chris Gahl, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy.
That was part of their pitch to Gen Con execs as they try to negotiate keeping the convention beyond 2020, when the current contract expires.
“It is our number one priority. We work with a sense of urgency year-round to work with them to make their convention bigger and better, to attract more visitors, to uplift the convention as a whole,” said Gahl.
When asked about the Lucas Oil Stadium idea, Kirby said, “Visit Indy has been wonderful in telling us what their plans are and what our opportunities are so they have been very forthcoming in terms of letting us know where we might be able to expand in the future.” But she also acknowledged that other cities have been submitting plans as well. It only ramped up after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy this spring, when Gen Con threatened to pull out of its contract if the bill wasn’t fixed.
“There’s always a courtship. It’s just the nature of the industry and because we are a very popular convention and make a lot of money for the cities that we’re in, we’re definitely on other city’s radar,” said Kirby.
The good news for Visit Indy was that RFRA was amended, keeping Gen Con in town through 2020. But that doesn’t affect what happens after that year.
“We feel really confident that the fact Gen Con, who really owns the city when they’re here, and the hospitality that’s felt by all of our restaurants and museums and hotels is felt by Gen Con and ultimately will trump any other city and keep them here in Indianapolis,” said Gahl.
Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen, but Kirby wasn’t afraid to praise their host city of the past 13 years.
“We have just felt Hoosier Hospitality all along and really just have grown to love Indianapolis,” she said.
Gahl added that it’s possible Gen Con will want to solidify a new contract as early as the end of this year.VENDOR HOPES GEN CON STAYS PUT
Setting up his booth for the tenth straight year, Michael Lisowski is looking forward to another busy weekend.
“It’s really amazing,” he said.
Lisowski works for Q-Workshop, a company that specializes in gaming dice.
“If someone needs a logo on dice we are the best people to talk to,” he said.
During his decade as a vendor, he said he’s seen several improvements in Indy, specifically with the canal.
“I really enjoy walking down there in the evening. It’s kind of relaxing after a full day of fairs and business meetings,” he said.
It’s part of the reason he hopes the convention stays in the Circle City.
“I cannot imagine it can be moved anywhere but Indy,” he said.
And he doesn’t just feel that way because of the tourism aspect Indianapolis has to offer.
“I’ve seen many, many conventions centers in the U.S. and I think this is the biggest one. I cannot imagine this amount of booths and people in any other place in the United States,” he said.
If Gen Con did leave after 2020, Lisowski said his company would probably follow. But it’s clear where he prefers the event to be hosted.
“We like having this in Indy and we like the city and I hope it does not move for any reason,” he said.FANS NOT SURPRISED OTHER CITIES WANT THE CONVENTION
Back in Indianapolis for the weekend they’ve been waiting all year for, Al Scopone and John Monsour are excited for Gen Con to get started.
“This is the one time the year I see friends from all over the country and over the world,” said Scopone.
He flew in from Texas while Monsour drove in from Michigan. Being so close is part of the reason Monsour appreciates Gen Con being in Indy.
“It’s easy for all my buddies to get here, people I only get to see once a year,” he said. “So having it so centralized it’s easy for us to get here.”
Monsour said if it were to move, possibly to the west coast, he probably wouldn’t attend it every year. But he understands the notion that growth could force Gen Con to find a new home.
“The hotels are what the biggest issue is. If there’s not enough places for people to stay you’re going to hit a maximum threshold at some point,” he said, “As long as there’s enough housing I think Indy will be OK.”
Scopone said as long as the convention stays in the U.S., he has no problem traveling. But he said he appreciates how Indy uses its tourist attractions to offer attendees more than just four days of gaming.
“It has zoos, museums, things that the mom and kids can do if the dad wants to game all day,” he said in addition to all of the restaurants within walking distance of the Convention Center.