Scott Olson, The IBJ

The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association announced at its annual meeting Thursday afternoon that it has received a $5.4 million gift-its largest from a private donor.

The contribution, which will be used to promote the city's tourism and convention business, came from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation Inc.

Dean White is the founder of Merrillville-based White Lodging, the developer of the $425 million, 1,600-room Marriott Place hotel complex downtown. The flagship 1,000-room JW Marriott is expected to open in February 2011.

"It's fantastic news," ICVA Executive Director Don Welsh said. "With the funding that we have, and the great product that we have, basically any excuses not to be successful are gone."

The grant from the Whites is to be spent over the next three years and totals nearly half the ICVA's $13 million annual budget. In a typical year, the association receives about $700,000 in private contributions.

The Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board funds 70 percent of its budget. The CIB, which operates the city's Indiana Convention Center and professional sports venues, increased the ICVA's funding from $6.9 million to $9 million in 2010.

Thursday's announcement follows a pledge Mayor Greg Ballard made earlier this month to give $1.5 million to the ICVA from funds returned to the city by companies that failed to meet job-creation promises tied to tax breaks.

Those funds also will enable the ICVA to better market the city both as a tourism and convention destination. The recent windfall is welcomed by John Livengood, president of the Indiana Restaurant & Hospitality Association.

"That has been our priority, to make sure [the ICVA has] the money to market Indianapolis," he said.

The ICVA has argued that it needs additional money to attract more conventions to the city. A $275 million expansion of the convention center, set to be finished early next year, adds 420,000 square feet to the mix. Including Lucas Oil Stadium, the ICVA will have 1.2 million square feet of convention space, 65 percent more than it had in the convention center and RCA Dome.

ICVA will use the extra funds to hire four additional salespeople. One of the new hires would be located at its office in Washington, D.C., bringing the sales staff there to four. Walsh said it is important to have a presence in the nation's capital, given that 13,000 national associations are headquartered in the area.

The amount the organization spends to advertise in trade publications will increase from $75,000 to $400,000, Welsh said.
Tourism efforts also will get a boost from two new television commercials ICVA will run that are "network quality," Welsh said. ICVA's summer marketing campaign will last 22 weeks-twice as long as normal-and will be seen in 11 cities instead of the typical four.

At Thursday's meeting, ICVA unveiled a new ad campaign for the city, dubbed "Right Now!", which is part of the overall "Raising the Game" branding strategy ICVA announced last year.

ICVA also plans to revamp its Web site. As part of that effort, the organization said it has signed a three-year agreement with online travel agency Expedia, which will provide an online reservation tool to be integrated into ICVA's Web site. The redesign should be finished in April.

"This is a competitive business," Indianapolis Zoo spokeswoman Karen Burns said. "We need this help to stay competitive."

Welsh said the White family approached the ICVA about making the contribution and that many meetings were held over several months before the amount was finalized on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2024 All Rights Reserved.