|By Bill Ruthhart, The Indianapolis Star|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 21, 2004 - The city's second-largest convention will be leaving in 2005, taking more than 40,000 visitors and the $26 million-plus they spend to Orlando.
The Performance Racing Industry has held the world's largest auto racing trade show in Indianapolis since 1998, but the show's booming growth coupled with limited space at the Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome led to the move.
"Space was the ultimate factor, and we've been getting more and more requests from our existing exhibitors and new companies that want to get in the show," said Pete Evanow, a spokesman for Performance Racing. "Would most of those exhibitors want to stay in Indy? Yes, I think that's a foregone conclusion, but everyone wants to grow, too."
The decision didn't shock city officials, who have been listening to the group's space concerns for more than two years. The move comes as Mayor Bart Peterson is calling for an expansion of the 300,000-square-foot Convention Center by another 465,000 square feet. But he and other city officials are still trying to decide where that expansion would be built and how the city would pay for it.
Performance Racing officials said Sunday they want to return their show to Indianapolis in 2010 if the city's Convention Center is expanded. Gen Con, a gathering for science fiction and adventure-game enthusiasts in August, is the only convention that draws more visitors.
The decision to move the show should add more urgency to complete an expansion, said Fred Glass, president of the Capital Improvement Board, the semi-governmental body that owns the Convention Center and RCA Dome.
"This is Exhibit A for the need to expand the Convention Center," Glass said. "This isn't Chicken Little -- the sky really is falling. We're in danger of losing all of our large convention customers."
The Performance Racing show -- the 62nd-largest convention in the country, according to industry publication Trade Show Week -- considered moving to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta before settling on Orlando's newly expanded Orange County Convention Center.
"They just doubled the size of their Convention Center, and the opportunity to have all of our exhibitors under one roof on the same floor was very enticing," Evanow said. "In Indianapolis last year, we had to move part of the show to a hotel next door because there was no more room."
It's unclear how much money it would cost Indianapolis to expand the Convention Center, but the price tag is expected to be significantly more than the $84 million it cost to add 120,000 square feet to the facility in 2001. Steve Campbell, a spokesman for Peterson, said such expansions in the past have been funded with increased hotel/motel taxes or auto rental fees.
Perhaps harder than deciding how to pay for an expansion is where to put it. The Capital Improvement Board owns about 25 acres south of the RCA Dome, but a future stadium for the Indianapolis Colts could be built on some of that land.
Peterson and Colts owner Jim Irsay are in the middle of negotiating a long-term deal to keep the NFL franchise in Indianapolis. A result of those talks could be a deal to build a new stadium, said Campbell, who added that the mayor hopes to have a deal with the Colts by the end of the year.
"A Convention Center expansion and the Colts negotiations go hand in hand," Campbell said. "One doesn't have to come before the other, but they are locked together."
Glass said keeping conventions like the Performance Racing show in Indianapolis should be the top priority.
"As important as the Colts are to Indianapolis -- and they are extremely important -- I think expanding the Convention Center is a notch above that," he said. "A new stadium could be the tail on a Convention Center-expansion dog as opposed to the other way around."
That's because many have raised the concept of expanding the Convention Center where the RCA Dome stands today while building a new stadium to the south, Glass said. Such a move would cost half as much, but Glass said it's too early to classify that plan as the most likely.
Whichever plan is chosen, Glass said, it's "absolutely feasible" to complete an expansion by 2010, the year Performance Racing said it intends to return if more space is available.
Bob East hopes the show comes back. The Pittsboro resident owns B. East Enterprises, a major manufacturer of open-wheel race cars and attends the show every December. He's also a business partner with Steve Lewis, the convention's producer.
"It was a real tough decision for Steve, and he wanted to stay in Indy, but all the major companies -- Ford, Toyota -- they all wanted a lot more space," East said. "It's a real shame for us local people, and they didn't want to leave us, but in the end, the almighty dollar won."
Campbell said the city wants to win the show back.
"PRI brings lots and lots of money to our local economy," he said. "Plus, the largest racing convention shouldn't be anywhere else but Indianapolis."
CITY'S TOP 5 CONVENTIONS
Gen Con -- The Best Four Days in Gaming
--When: Aug. 19-22
--Visitor spending: $35,910,000
--What: The largest annual consumer sci-fi and adventure game convention in North America
Performance Racing Industry
--When: Dec. 9-11
--Visitor spending: $26,676,000
--What: The world's largest auto racing trade show
Fire Department Instructors Conference
--When: April 26 to May 1
--Visitor spending: $34,200,000
--What: National fire and emergency services event
Southern Baptist Convention
--When: June 14-17
--Visitor spending: $19,950,000
--What: Members from more than 42,000 churches in United States Custom Electronic
Design & Installation Association
--When: Sept. 8-12
--Visitor spending: $18,240,000
--What: International trade association of companies specializing in the planning and installation of home electronics
Note: Visitor and visitor spending numbers are estimates
Source: Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association
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