INDIANAPOLIS — Two Northwest Indiana hotel company leaders with operations in downtown Indianapolis urged Hoosier lawmakers Wednesday to reconsider an Indiana Convention Center expansion plan that calls for 1,414 additional hotel rooms at the center of the state's capital city.
Bruce White, CEO of Merrillville-based White Lodging, and Jeff Good, the Valparaiso-based president of HRC Hotels, cautioned the House Ways and Means Committee that adding so much new hotel capacity in downtown Indianapolis threatens to significantly reduce occupancy, which could directly result in room rate and hotel employment cuts.
"This is not about us-or-them," White said. "This is about what's best for the city, and maintaining an appropriate level of equilibrium so we don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg."
White Lodging owns the 1,005-room blue glass J.W. Marriott and several additional Marriott-branded downtown hotel properties.
Altogether, White said his company has invested more than $1 billion in downtown Indianapolis over the past several decades.
Based on his experience, White suggested the proposed 80,000-square foot convention center expansion does not justify the addition of two skyscraper Hilton hotels that together would be larger than the J.W. Marriott, which opened in 2011 alongside a 450,000-square-foot convention center expansion.
"We more than anybody understand and appreciate the need to look forward," White said. "Our future is going to be determined by how successful Visit Indy is and the downtown Indianapolis conventions."
"Let's have some effective leadership involved to where we avoid getting put in this confrontational position."
Likewise, Good asked lawmakers to act deliberately instead of just plowing ahead with a plan that would needlessly harm companies employing thousands of Hoosiers that have helped make downtown Indianapolis the convention and tourism destination it is today.
"We're obviously concerned about all those rooms being added," Good said. "What we're looking for is balance."
Senate Bill 7 calls for using a portion of the state tax revenue generated by the new hotels, along with additional funds from new and existing sports development districts, to make improvements to Indianapolis stadiums owned by the Marion County Capital Improvement Board, including Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field and Lucas Oil Stadium.
City tax revenue produced by the new hotels would fund the convention center expansion and additional downtown Indianapolis public works projects.
Chris Gahl, Visit Indy senior vice president of marketing and communications, said the tourism agency recently has been told by numerous convention center users that Indianapolis needs more meeting facilities and more downtown hotel rooms to continue getting their business.
"Over four decades, our city and our state has invested in tourism as an economic development strategy, and we cannot afford to sit idle," Gahl said. "Other, bigger cities are quickly approaching and looking to pass."
According to city officials, more than 4.4 million Indianapolis visitors last year contributed $1.1 billion to the local and state economies and were responsible for 19,000 full- and part-time jobs.
State Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, the committee co-chairman, said following the five-hour hearing that the panel will take a few weeks to evaluate the Senate-approved measure before deciding whether or how to move ahead.