Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 15, 2014

Indy prepares to host 70,000 for NRA convention

City plays guessing game as to how visitors will spend time, money.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly 70,000 people are expected to descend on downtown Indianapolis in late April for the National Rifle Association's annual convention. But determining how best to market the city to those visitors has been a challenge for tourism leaders who've hosted everything from the Indianapolis 500 and Gen Con to the Super Bowl.

"We know (the NRA) is a very large group with enormous purchasing power, but I'm not sure it's been determined exactly where they'll spend their money when they're in town," Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops told the Indianapolis Business Journal. "We think you'll see a broad range of spending habits."

The gun-loving organization that's gathering at the Indiana Convention Center April 25-27 has never held its show in Indianapolis, and it tends to stay quiet about its demographics. That has many in the city playing a guessing game as they try to determine what will best entice visitors to part with their cash.

Tourism officials have studied past NRA conventions, but that will only help a little. The makeup and size of the crowd are typically influenced by issues within the NRA and nationally, especially if there's a move afoot to restrict gun ownership.

Last year's convention in Texas came amid a resulting national debate about gun-control laws that intensified after the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The 2013 event drew a record crowd of 86,228, up 15 percent from 2012.

Attendance in Indianapolis is expected to be lower, but the event is still expected to have a $55.4 million economic impact on the city. The convention will be the second-largest non-sports gathering and third-biggest for economic impact, said Chris Gahl, Visit Indy vice president of marketing and communications.

"This is the type of show that almost any city with the capabilities to host it would clamor for," said Jonathan Day, a professor of hospitality at Purdue University. "Intense competition is an understatement."

Indianapolis leaders spent about a decade working to land the convention despite the group's critics.

City officials say they are prepared for the possibility of demonstrators surrounding the convention center.

Marc Lotter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard, said city officials will work to keep everyone safe but won't inhibit anyone's right to free speech.

"We respect their First Amendment rights and we'd expect that they would respect our First and Second Amendment rights," Arulanandam said.

Hoops, the Visit Indy CEO, said Indianapolis is happy to have the group.

"We're not a political organization. We try to stay as neutral as possible and focus instead on scoring the biggest economic impact we can," he said.

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com