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Officials hope return of Indy’s largest convention has domino effect

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis’ largest convention of the year is coming back and coming back downtown.

The announcement was made Wednesday that the National FFA Convention and Expo will host an in-person event in the fall.

The event usually brings 65,000 people to town eating, drinking and enjoying other amenities. The number is unlikely to be that high this year, but still, every little bit helps for places like Tavern on South as conventions start to come back.

“It’s good to have any of the conventions back in town,” owner Steve Geisler said.

Geisler says while not all conventions are created equal, an event the size of FFA is a big deal.

While Tavern on South relies on people who live and work downtown, which means business is still a struggle these days, special events are important too. Geisler is already starting to get calls for event space at other times.

“Conventions turn good weeks into great weeks, great weeks into unbelievable weeks or bad weeks into good weeks,” Geisler said.

The announcement from the FFA comes after more than a year of planning.

“It’s a day I’ve been waiting a very long time for, I can tell you that,” Mandy Hazlett, the associate director of convention and events for FFA, said.

While last year’s all-virtual version included more than 200,000 participants, Hazlett says there’s no replacement for the connections and career exposure in person.

A city that hosted 500 conventions and events in 2019 had just 50 last year in the pandemic. This year, 221 are on the books so far.

“Having the National FFA Convention meeting in downtown Indy once again is huge for the city of Indianapolis,” Nate Swick, the communications manager for Visit Indy, said.

Swick says one event often leads to more, especially one with the scale of the FFA.

“People are looking at Indy, looking at the National FFA, to see if they believe they can pull this off, maybe we can pull it off too. We’re hoping for a domino effect after that as well,” Swick said.

One big domino could be the first trade show in a year at the Convention Center, which is set for next month: the National Confectioner’s Association Sweets and Snacks Expo with an estimated 9,000 people, many with the corporate expense accounts that are really big business for a place like Tavern on South.

“It makes you feel we’re getting there slowly but surely,” Geisler said.

Hazlett says they’re expecting anywhere from 50-70% of their normal crowd, or somewhere between 30,000 and 45,000 people, for the National FFA Convention.

The Convention is set for Oct. 27-30.

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