A time without conventions to host is the right time to make over convention spaces.
The city of Indianapolis is borrowing $155 million to revamp its Indiana Convention Center to accommodate the 2026 annual meeting of the American Dental Association.
After upgrading its air filtration and cleaning systems this year, the center lured six basketball tournaments and a candy exposition from neighboring Chicago, where conventions remain banned.
“We see convention tourism racing back in 2023,” Chris Gahl, senior vice-president of Visit Indy, said to The New York Times. In the home of Memorial Day’s Indianapolis 500 race, “When the green flag drops, we’re going to be on the competitive edge.”
In 2016, U.S. events such as the dentists’ convention numbered more than 250,000 and drew 84.7 million visitors who spent $110.4 billion in host locales, according to the Events Industry Council.
Convention centers must regularly expand or remodel to outshine competitors to draw events. But the pandemic and economic shutdown have turned convention centers into echo chambers.
Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center event complex flirted with insolvency earlier this year but has since borrowed $270 million to remake its event complex, necessary to keep pace with competitors in St. Louis, Nashville, and Indianapolis, Marty Brooks, the center’s CEO, explained to the Times.
Similarly, the state of Georgia budgeted $70 million to fund an expansion of the exhibition hall at Savannah’s convention center; the city of Cleveland is looking for $30 million to expand and upgrade its Huntington Convention Center; and Terre Haute’s county is planning a $20-million hotel next to a $32-million convention complex still under construction – all under the worst economic conditions in 90 years.
These are all-in bets in a zero-sum gain in which one city’s gain is necessarily another’s loss.
If a spiffed-up center fails to draw a certain number of high-paying events, taxpayers will be left holding the debt the center incurred to improve itself, explained Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas professor who studies convention centers’ role in urban renewal, in a Times interview.
“You’ve made a very large bet in an environment of enormous risk and uncertainty,” he said. “Once you’ve placed it, you can’t undo it.”
TRENDPOST: The banning of trade shows and conventions across the globe has not only devastated the hospitality and restaurant sectors dependent upon them… it has also destroyed supporting businesses that supply products and services. Artists, musicians, entertainers, and other professionals and support staff who depend on convention center activity have also been obliterated by the draconian lockdown measures. Yet, this is barely reported in the mainstream media.
And, as noted, the less convention and trade show business, the lower the tax revenues for already indebted cities.

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