365 days ago. A lifetime ago and a blink all at once.
Last year at this time, Visit Indy gathered more than 800 members of Central Indiana’s tourism community at the Madam Walker Legacy Center to kick-off the city’s Bicentennial Celebration. I reported record-setting results and we welcomed David Letterman back home to accept the Bill McGowan Leadership Award (our city’s highest tourism honor). Standing on that historic stage—in a building that was the vision of the first Black, female, self-made millionaire—I was filled with optimism for the year ahead. In fact, we were forecasting 2020 to be a record year for conventions and had the 2021 NBA All-Star Weekend right behind it.
We all know what happened. COVID-19 took countless lives, businesses, and jobs. It brought panic, despair, and hopelessness. It even widened already hyper-partisan divides around the globe.
But as I reflect on the past year, I also see just how resilient Indy has stood amidst this pandemic.
While other convention centers simply mothballed their facilities, Indy invested $7 million in new health and safety upgrades and developed sound, public-health-approved guidelines for in-person events (we ultimately hosted 30 of them, safely welcoming 50,000 visitors). We even pressed forward to expand the Indiana Convention Center for the sixth time, receiving unanimous, bipartisan approval (25-0) from the Indy City-County Council to do so.
When there was social unrest, Indy artists painted murals.
When the Indy hospitality community was aching, the City and Visit Indy rolled out a CARES Act-funded $1 million ad campaign inviting Hoosiers home to the Capital City. A few months later when hospitality businesses needed another boost, we administrated another CARES Act-fueled $1 million Ready for Winter Grant.
We welcomed the new Art Deco Bottleworks Hotel to the city’s skyline, inside what was once the world’s largest Coca-Cola Bottling Plant that had become a school bus yard.
We finished 2020 strong, with our future convention pipeline still robust (we hit 92% of our goal, far outpacing our comp set). Our Sales, Marketing, and Services teams never stopped pursuing future convention business in 2020, and our customers noticed.
Turning the page to 2021, two prestigious travel media deemed Indy as one of their “Best Places to Go in 2021,” Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, in part because Newfields announced a blockbuster exhibit arriving in June, The LUME, featuring Van Gogh.
And just last week—after months of hard work by Team Indy (Visit Indy, the Capital Improvement Board, Indiana Sports Corp., the City, the State, and many others)—we landed March Madness in its entirety for Indy and Indiana. Over a 25-day stretch beginning in mid-March, 67 basketball games will be played in six venues. More than 2,500 student athletes, coaches, and officials will check into our downtown “controlled environment” (aka bubble) with the NCAA Men’s Final Four as the culminating games April 3 & 5.
So now, 365 days later, I find myself just as optimistic and bullish on Indy’s future as I did a year ago.
More than 50 years of focused city planning, coupled with bipartisan support of our convention, sports, and tourism industry, strategic investments in infrastructure, Hoosier Hospitality, and the relentless spirit of our community has shown that Indy has what it takes to get through even the worst of times.
Indy did not get here by accident. No, Indy was made for this moment. Dorene, Cannon, Avalon, and I have been here a decade now and we’ve never been more proud to call Indy home.