Start your engines with Indiana Hoosier hospitality
Indianapolis, like its famous 100-year-old race that attracts several hundred thousand fans, has surprises around every turn. The winner of the challenging Indy 500 drinks milk in the Victory Lane. The city’s zoo, aquarium and botanical garden together comprise the area’s first-ever triple-accredited attraction. Indiana’s state capital is the 12th-largest metropolis in the U.S. with a sports-devotee reputation. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, along with pharmaceutical giants Eli Lilly and Company and Roche Diagnostics, are based here, drawing medical and biotech meetings. Equally at home meeting here this past year were the International Sleep Products Association and hardware store giant Do It Best.
The auto-racing capital has a game plan: Build out thoughtfully, then capitalize on a century’s worth of hospitality experience. Indianapolis CVA President and CEO Leonard Hoops says, “The first time groups meet in Indianapolis, they usually have some sort of racing theme based on the Indy 500 and a checkered flag will show up somewhere. The Indy 500 draws interest from a grand perspective, but the real differentiator is our compact, connected and convenient convention package.”
Plus, Super Bowl XLVI helped spiff up facilities, accommodations and infrastructure, making Indianapolis a meeting city to be reckoned with.
1. Arrival & Reception
Driving to Indy is a breeze. Thanks to several interstate highways that converge at this central “Crossroads of America” city, 50% of the U.S. population lives within one day’s drive of Indianapolis and its 33,000 area-wide hotel rooms. The modern, single-terminal Indianapolis International Airport (IND) opened in 2008 and was LEED certified in 2011. Daily nonstop flights on nine major airlines provide easy access to a meeting downtown, a mere 16 minutes away.
A few years ago, weather-savvy meeting planners would have booked here only in the spring or fall. That seasonal market is no more, says Indy CVA’s Hoops. Instead, the city’s open for meetings year-round at a full range of price points. The country’s largest, climate-controlled, weather-impervious curved glass skywalk system connects 4,700 of 7,100 downtown Indianapolis hotel rooms to the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. With 6,000 or so attendees, a group can virtually take over downtown, notes Hoops.
Many meetings take place downtown near the domed Indiana Statehouse, because, as a planner quoted by the Indy CVA in a promotional campaign put it, “your hotels are freakishly close to the convention center!” The skywalk system connects almost a dozen hotels, including the $450 million Marriott Place’s five properties, to the Indiana Convention Center (ICC). The 1,005-room, 33-story JW Marriott Indianapolis debuted in 2011. This blue-glass landmark, JW Marriott’s largest, is Indiana’s tallest building. It has 103,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the most in town, and its 40,500-square-foot JW Grand Ballroom is one of the city’s largest and an ideal place for a mix-and-mingle reception to kick off any event. Three other Marriott Place Downtown Indianapolis properties cluster with the JW, including the 297-room Courtyard by Marriott Indianapolis Downtown and the 622-room Indianapolis Marriott Downtown with 35 meeting rooms among 40,000 sq. ft. of space.
There are 424 guest rooms—many with balconies overlooking the city—and 17,000 sq. ft. of space at the Omni Severin Hotel, which was built in 1913 and completed an $8 million renovation in 2011. And the 273-room Crowne Plaza Indianapolis at Historic Union Station features more than 50,000 sq. ft. of space. Nostalgic Pullman train cars rest on original train tracks at the country’s very first Union Station—and some have been converted into guest rooms.
Not far from the downtown core is University Place Conference Center & Hotel at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The Four-Diamond 278-room property elevates the atmosphere of a meeting with its well-appointed 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Many groups want the cachet of gathering in Scholar’s Hall, a 7,000-square-foot venue that accommodates dining for 430 or a reception for 500. Others will want to book the Penthouse Boardroom for spectacular city views at the 209-room The Alexander, opening east of the ICC in December with 22,500 sq. ft. of space.
Immerse attendees in authentic Indiana with an opening reception at the Indiana State Museum, which sourced its limestone, glass, brick and steel from within the state. The Governor Frank O’Bannon Great Hall shows off a splendid view of Military Park and the canal and is steps from the White River. Perch attendees at Indianapolis’ heart 17 feet above a downtown intersection in the seven-story glass-enclosed Indianpolis Artsgarden space that links by skywalk to the ICC and major downtown hotels. Or have a group ascend to a city high point: D’Amore Events of Indianapolis’ 9,000-square-foot space on the 48th floor of Chase Tower.
The highly regarded Indianapolis Zoo in White River State Park, a must-see for groups, has multiple private group facilities ideal for an opening reception. The Dolphin Adventure Gallery allows 120–350 in to watch these fine swimmers frolic. Oceans, a shark touch pool, can host 250 standing. The tented Party Pavilion shelters 1,000 attendees for a reception and the Education Suites venue can hold 250 for a standing event. The city skyline is on full view from the Hulman Riverhouse in White River Gardens for groups of up to 250, or take over the 5,000-square-foot Hilbert Conservatory after hours.
2. General Sessions & Dining Out
Frustrated when the opening session of a conference is half full due to attendees failing to get to the hall in time? Indianapolis has the solution. Thanks to preparations for Super Bowl 2012, downtown-based attendees are a short walk from major meeting sites.
The largest is the Indiana Convention Center, which doubled its exhibition space to 566,300 contiguous sq. ft. among 11 halls in 2011. A keynote speaker can wow 3,400 folks seated theater-style in the largest of three ballrooms, the column-free, 33,335-square-foot Sagamore Ballroom. Tailor the space to meet any group’s needs, choosing from among a whopping 71 meeting rooms. The skywalk connects downtown hotel rooms with the ICC and Circle Centre mall’s retail outlets and eateries, making it easy to shop and dine barely a block away.
The skywalk and an underground passage connect the ICC to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Indianapolis Colts home field will host the NCAA Final Four in 2015. The field, two exhibit halls and 12 meeting rooms offer 183,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space for conventions and events. For large events, the field seats up to 67,000 attendees under a retractable roof.
Lucas Oil Stadium
Three blocks from the ICC on Georgia Street, yet another sports venue, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, is where the NBA Indiana Pacers and WNBA Indiana Fever play professional basketball. Your group can meet in 247,600 sq. ft. of space. The 7,038-square-foot Practice Court seats 400, or take over the 20,600-square-foot Arena Floor for 1,000 diners. If the after-meetings schedule permits, attendees may be able to catch a concert here by major A-list performers. For an exclusive after-hours party, what served as Super Bowl Village along tree-lined Georgia Street can be transformed into a one-, two- or three-block Spanish-style pedestrian plaza for groups.
In June, the NCAA Hall of Champions and Conference Center rolled out 12,000 sq. ft. of new meeting space in six rooms and a ballroom, for a total of 52,000 sq. ft. Nestled in green White River State Park just west of downtown Indy, the facility connects to the interactive Hall of Champions Museum.
Goose The Market exclusively sells Indiana-sourced, pasture-raised, cured and smoked meats; bring some items to your venue and cook them up using the market’s portable smoke stack. Gourmet.com calls Patachou one of 2012’s Top 10 Healthiest Restaurants in the Nation, and it’s easy to find out why at one of five locations. Hoosier country comes alive 15 miles northwest of downtown at the 150-acre Traders Point Creamery. Brown Swiss cows produce three types of artisan cheese and organic milk that goes into yogurt. Fancy a rustic red barn atmosphere? No need to create a themed event when the real thing exists here and seats up to 400. Another pre-Civil-War-era barn holds the 100-seat Loft Restaurant, which serves organic menus.
At 110-year-old St. Elmo Steak House, a James Beard Foundation 2012 America’s Classic eatery, it’s tradition to brave a fiery St. Elmo shrimp cocktail—tops on the five-alarm scale. The new and classy 1933 Lounge above St. Elmo is a tribute to the end of Prohibition. Notorious bank robber John Dillinger was buried in Indianapolis; while he was alive and imbibing, he patronized the Slippery Noodle Inn, a onetime brothel and stop on the Underground Railroad where bullet holes still rest in the walls. Attendees can decompress here post-session by soaking up the atmosphere with food, blues and drinks. For a television-free after-hours watering hole, attendees can gather at the Ball & Biscuit bar and lounge for a hint of speakeasy atmosphere. Others can catch live music any night of the week at the Chatterbox Jazz Club.
3. Team Building & Closing Event
Now it’s time for tours, networking and trust enhancement. At the Indianapolis Zoo, groups of four adults can bathe an elephant or choose colors and watch an elephant, penguin, seal, sea lion or walrus paint a piece of artwork. Go Ape Treetop Adventure in Eagle Creek Park gets the group’s monkey-like energy recharged with five ziplines and 39 ropes course challenges.
Go Ape Treetop Adventure
Segway Tours of Indiana guides 19-person groups through White River State Park, the NCAA Hall of Champions, Indiana State Museum, White River Gardens, the Indianapolis Zoo elephant habitat and the White River Canal river walk. The city spent $63 million on its eight-mile Cultural Trail that winds through the historic Cultural Districts and the White River State Park—a favorite of bikers and power walkers. For a memorable group experience, let attendees find their beat by playing a percussive instrument during a group tour or private event at downtown’s Rhythm Discovery Center.
Chef JJ’s Back Yard corporate team building takes competitive grilling seriously, as each team solves clues given by the chef to produce a tempting meal. The Indy Brew Bus transports groups of 14 to three local breweries for sampling, while Taste Indy Food Tours tailors trips for up to 250 to Massachusetts Avenue, the Wholesale District, Fountain Square and City Market.
For a memorable finale, consider the city’s cultural side at the national historic landmark Madame Walker Theater Center, named for America’s first self-made female millionaire, African-American Madame C. J. Walker. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It can host a sit-down dinner for 1,450 attendees with museum access to a touchable dinosaur bone and a rideable antique carousel.
Another option is a tented 350-person dinner event connecting inside and outside at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Alliance Sculpture Garden, which overlooks 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. For one last memorable view of the City of Speed from a private terrace along the canal, the Eiteljorg Museum is an option for a standing event for 1,200, with access provided to world-class Native American and western art on two floors of galleries.
In three days, your group can’t begin to take in all Indianapolis has to offer. But it’s a good start.
Main image: Monument Circle, Indianapolis, courtesy of Visit Indy
–Who: American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.; 6,500 attendees
–What: AOTA Annual Conference and Expo
–When: April 2012
–Where: Indiana Convention Center and nine hotels
–Why: “Every attendee commented on how nice people were. With 90-percent female attendees, and a very active membership, Indianapolis was a safe, compact, walkable city. Restaurants were within walking distance of the Indiana Convention Center and nearby shopping areas. The Super Bowl created lots of newly refurbished space. We work with and are sensitive to disability issues. The Indiana Convention Center’s older section was well laid out for our needs and close to our nine-hotel block of rooms. A site inspection problem—bathroom access would have to be widened to be wheelchair accessible—was resolved as part of the conference contract, and was our way of giving back to the host city.” –Frank E. Gainer, director of conferences
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Something Speeding This Way Comes
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, courtesy of Visit Indy
Host to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will always be Indy’s No. 1 attraction. Groups can arrange receptions or functions at the speedway when it’s not being used for races including the Indy 500 in May, Brickyard 400 NASCAR race in July and Red Bull Indianapolis GP motorcycle road race in August.
One-third of a mile from the speedway track, attendees wanting the thrill of speed have two 180-mph Indy Racing Experience options: a two-seater ride behind an Indy 500 driver or the Ultimate Experience solo ride. The state-of-the-art Dallara IndyCar Factory, used by the Italian car company, opened in the same facility as the Indy Racing Experience in May. A race-car simulator and a show-and-tell about what goes into the precision design, engineering and manufacture of an Indy 500 race car are major draws. For meeting planners, the venue has the newest meeting spaces in town: the 22,000-square-foot glass-encased Interactive Hall with banquet-style seating for 1,000, the 13,000-square-foot Indy Racing Experience Garage space and a conference room for 30.