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Indiana meeting place update.

A survey of facilities around the state

Fun, informative, a place to make contacts, a chance to get away--conventions and meetings can be all these. They're also a widespread and growing business in Indiana.

Bob Swithers, the Indiana Department of Commerce's trade manager for marketing and tourism, says Indiana is "a new meeting location for people tired of old locations." But groups aren't coming here once for variety and then going somewhere else the next time, he says. "We get a lot of return business." Swithers believes a prime reason for Indiana's popularity with the convention industry stems from the cooperative effort put forth by hotels and the convention and visitors bureaus.

New, renovated and enlarged meetings facilities are appearing throughout the state. The newest is the Convention Center of Monroe County/Bloomington, a 40,000-plus-square-foot downtown facility which officially opened in late October.

The Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville is the second-largest meetings-and-conventions hotel in the state, according to General Manager Michael W. Williams. Some of the hotel's features are a new multipurpose 12,000-square-foot ballroom, facilities for staging varied activities from trade shows to black-tie events, and more than 30 rooms designed for disabled and hearing-impaired guests. Another attraction at the hotel is its 3,400-seat Star Plaza Theatre, which stages more than 200 shows a year. Some performers scheduled for the Merrillville property in 1992 include Tom Jones, Spyro Gyra, David Copperfield, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

"The Chicago Alternative" is the way Earl Adams, director of sales, bills Gary's Genesis Convention Center. There are a million people within 20 minutes of Gary, Adams notes, and the Indiana city can offer them a more economical convention and better hotel rates than its Illinois neighbor. For 10 years, his center hasn't had an active, direct sales effort or funds for that purpose, but things are changing, Adams says.

Genesis, with room for 8,000 people and 250 exhibit booths on the main floor, had good booking figures in 1991 for a facility that is just coming into its own. It hosted 11 major trade shows and between 300 and 400 smaller events. Groups planning something smaller than a convention or major meeting also can take advantage of Genesis. The center can serve banquets for 20 to 200.

Meeting organizers who want to get away from the high costs of Chicago also might consider Munster's Center for Visual and Performing Arts. The 2-year-old cultural institution and social center has meeting rooms, a theater seating 500, complete food service, an art gallery and free on-site parking. Just 30 minutes south of Chicago, the center is accessible from Interstate 80-94.

Porter County is a mostly rural area, but it's close to Chicago and Interstates 65, 80-90 and 94. Drawing cards to Porter County are the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and world-class fishing that's available from a fleet of charter boats in season March to November. The Porter County Expo Center in Valparaiso has 25,000 square feet of exhibit space, two banquet rooms with seating capacity of up to 325 and a main hall that can accommodate as many as 600. A number of events also are held in local hotel facilities, where guests may enjoy views of lakes and woods. Typically, Porter County gets corporate retreat business as well as local, regional and state association meetings.

Century Center in South Bend celebrates its 15th anniversary in 1992. With the recent relocation of the Discovery Hall Museum from the center to South Bend's Studebaker Museum, an additional 12,000 square feet have been made available. With the increase in floor space the center can go after bigger events, such as larger trade shows. All the suites are being redone, according to Director of Sales Sandy Lee. "The break-out rooms are going to be very elegant," she says.

Coming soon is a state-of-the-art sound system for the Bendix Theatre. Says Lee: "Even with the recession, our business is growing--'92 is going to be a big year for us." The University of Notre Dame has chosen Century Center for the school's sesquicentennial celebration.

The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum & Exposition Center has an 108,000-square-foot Expo Center, a 40,000-square-foot Exhibition Hall and a 10,000-seat arena. Because of its Fort Wayne location, the facility can be promoted to a tri-state market. Sales and Marketing Director Mark Chappuis says that it welcomes state associations at a time when larger convention centers are discouraging that business.

Groups that want to meet in Central Indiana but prefer not to go to Indianapolis should consider the Horizon Convention Center of Muncie. Assistant Director Darleen Puzzullo points out that the lower costs at the Delaware County site are "a plus for the budget-conscious meeting planner." The center is a modern facility in a historic building. Though it's only 4 years old, it's being expanded now to attract big trade shows. Horizon Center is accessible from Interstate 69 and several state highways. Puzzullo reports that 98 percent of Horizon's customers say they would return.

Among Terre Haute's convention facilities are the renovated 1922 Indiana Theatre and the Hulman Center on the Indiana State University campus. A bonus at the ISU site is the inexpensive dorm-room rate, says Sydney Ransom, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau. One exhibit hall at the Vigo County Fairgrounds can accommodate 2,000 for banquets and 3,500 seated theater-style. "Convention business is good," says Ransom, noting that 4,500 to 5,000 bowlers will be in her city this spring for a meeting of the Indiana State Youth Bowling Association.

Until five or six years ago, Indianapolis principally hosted Indiana meetings and conventions. Now the city has a significant share of regional and national business while maintaining state bookings. Indianapolis can be reached easily by car or by air, which adds to its appeal as a meeting site, says Bob Bedell, senior vice president of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. There are 3,000 hotel rooms within three blocks of the Indiana Convention Center & Hoosier Dome, which makes the city popular with conventions that might have to rely on shuttle service in other cities.

Indianapolis is an easy city to do business in, says Bedell, noting that it's "friendly, clean, safe, not intimidating." He finds the city popular with groups that have outgrown facilities they formerly used. The Indianapolis facilities themselves are growing. Early this year construction began on the expansion and renovation of the convention center. A readily visible part of the project will be skywalks connecting more than 1,000 hotel rooms to the updated complex. The $43 million expansion is deemed necessary for Indianapolis to continue the convention growth it has experienced since the mid-1980s.

Not every center is looking for large events. One that's happy with its usual group size of 50 to 100 is University Place Conference Center & Hotel. Located on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, it acts as a facilitator as well as a facility--the staff can help organizations plan meetings. Features of University Place's 338-seat auditorium are a stage, 40- by 20-foot screen, control room, four simultaneous translation booths and two audio systems. Twelve of the 30 dedicated meeting rooms have projection booths. Several restaurants plus a food court are at the site.

The Omni Indianapolis North Hotel has an amphitheater with projection booth and stage, a ballroom and meeting facilities for up to 500. It also features conference and boardrooms for smaller groups. Abruzzi's, which specializes in Italian and continental food, offers evening-only fine dining. The Blue Moon Bar at the property does a lively business with the under-30 crowd. The Omni North is near major highways and the Castleton shopping mall.

Indiana State Parks allow planners a choice of a half dozen locations. Six park inns scattered around the state offer a change of scenery with the seasons. Gary Miller, chief of inns and concessions for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, says the facilities give people a chance to relax without the distractions common at urban locations. "They are one of the best buys around," Miller notes. The inns are near Marshall, Angola, Mitchell, Nashville, Madison and Spencer. Each has a large meeting room and breakout rooms.

Meeting centers may offer services and advice to make planning a convention easier. Independent firms offer assistance as well. One such company is Corporate Events Management of Indianapolis. It helps corporations plan events in Indiana, in other states or around the world. A few of CEM's services are researching sites, arranging travel and coordinating post-meeting billing details.

Just as its name says, exhibits are the specialty of The Exhibit House. Says the company's Larry Minnick: "An exhibit is a three-dimensional sales tool. It allows the potential customer to see, smell and touch in a one-on-one situation." The Exhibit House's work has appeared in Indiana, as at the Indianapolis Home Show, but Minnick says he regularly helps Indiana organizations demonstrate their ideas and products outside the state.


Are there trends in types of meetings and conventions? Facility spokespeople say they find--and seek--variety in bookings. Lists from a number of sites, in fact, show a mix of client groups. Meetings at Purdue University go from the serious (Hazardous Waste Management Operations) to the cuddly (7th Annual Cat Show). Evansville's Executive Inn hosts statewide Lions and Elks groups as well as the Illinois Oil & Gas Association and the 16th Infantry U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Following is a more detailed look at events that reflect the range of Indiana bookings in 1992:

Communities for miles around Columbus will share the city's bounty during the Farm Progress Show (Sept. 29-Oct. 1). This show is expected to bring 300,000 people to the area. The host site is the Columbus Holiday Inn and Conference Center. The center was built in 1989, and the older inn is now under renovation. The hotel reflects the eclectic mood of the 1890-1910 period. The center offers parking for 500.

Strange sounds may come from the Hoosier Dome late this month. That's when the National Wild Turkey Federation holds calling contests at its national convention. It is predicted that 10,000 people will attend. The group raises money for wild turkey conservation. Helping the federation meet its goals is the U.S. Forest Service.

Look for the POW/MIA hot air balloon in Evansville Sept. 23-26. It will be tethered there for the duration when the American Ex-Prisoners of War meet at the Robert E. Green Convention Center of the Executive Inn Hotel. This family organization--with a 40 percent female membership--is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1992. The key speaker, usually a U.S. Cabinet member, hasn't been announced yet.

Gardeners of America will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year at the Fort Wayne Marriott June 12-15. Originally consisting of garden clubs for men, the group recently dropped the male designation in its title. Women members are welcome. This convention is hosted by the men's garden club in Fort Wayne. Meeting in the warm season allows attendees to enjoy tours of local gardens.

Also in Fort Wayne, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum & Exposition Center in the early part of this year will host events such as Fort Wayne Home & Garden Show (Feb. 28-March 1), Sports, Vacation & Boat Show (March 12-15) and the Manufactured Housing Show (April 22-26).

Becoming a Fourth of July weekend tradition is InConjunction, a science-fiction convention at the Adam's Mark Hotel near Indianapolis International Airport. Staged by the Circle of Janus club, InConjunction XI attracted 850 people in 1991. Conventioneers dressed as elves, barbarians, or maybe Tinker Bell, fill the hotel's halls, making the scene a photographer's bonanza. Dealers sell books, costumes, jewelry and science-fiction art. Games are in progress throughout the meet.

Elsewhere in downtown Indianapolis, University Place again this year will be the site of the Nike Academic Betterment and Career Development Camp, in which approximately 120 top high-school basketball players will participate. In August, Indiana's Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon will host the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors.

In October, a new Ms. Wheelchair Indiana will reign at Fort Wayne's Grand Wayne Center. That winner goes on to national competition. The honor is "not based on beauty," says Fort Wayne pageant spokeswoman Suzanne Hageman. Instead, knowledge of barriers, self-projection and -perception and speaking ability are the criteria the judges use. The four-day, three-evening gathering is not just for choosing a winner: Workshops and seminars will be conducted throughout the event. Hageman hopes 500 people will attend this year's meeting, the third one held in the city. She praises the official pageant hotel, the Hilton, for its many rooms suitable for the handicapped.

It'll be a magical time in the state capital July 1-4. That's when about 1,000 members of the Society of American Magicians are expected to convene at the Westin Hotel Indianapolis for their annual meeting. Although "American" is in the name, the society's members come from around the world. The group is the oldest magician's organization in existence. On three evenings, tickets may be available to the public for shows at the Circle Theatre, where world-class magicians will perform.

Say Yes to Magic is a program for Central Indiana youths. Margaret Dailey of Indianapolis received a grant of nearly $190,000 from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Foundation Inc. to give young people a positive alternative to the negative of saying "no" to drugs. Dailey, past president of the Society of American Magicians and currently director of its Young Member Program, says all the youngsters get an opportunity to perform magic. These Indiana magicians, ages 7 to 16, can take part in the age-group competition at the convention in July.

The Beer, Wine & Spirits Industry Trade Show is for licensed alcoholic beverage permit holders only. It visits Fort Wayne's Grand Wayne Center Oct. 23-25. The fall date is designated to allow beverage sellers to look at holiday packaging and to see what is being promoted for the season. They can then place their orders at the meet. About 2,000 people are expected.

Screen Print '92 International with 12,000 attendees needs both the Indianapolis Convention Center and the Hoosier Dome for its convention. Exhibitors are manufacturers and suppliers serving the screen-print industry. Anything on which a design must last is screen-printed, such as car dashboards, dials on ovens, billboards, display racks and printed circuitry. The trade show gives people in the industry an opportunity to compare and to evaluate equipment. It's listed in the "Trade Show 200."

At some conference centers there are trade-offs in scheduling. Organizations with less-boisterous members are easier on the carpet and fixtures, but they tend to spend less on food-and-beverage service. While groups of free spenders may increase profits, they may cause more wear and tear. Centers don't state preferences about the kinds of groups they'd like to have--they just want people to keep coming. And come they do.

The Impersonal Computer Meeting?

This is not science fiction. This is the here and now. This very minute, a group of executives may be gathered in a meeting room on the 21st floor of the Bank One Tower in Indianapolis--nearly silent--having an unusually productive planning session. They're meeting, IBM-style, side-by-side in front of personal-computer screens.

It sounds a bit impersonal, this computer-network meeting hosted and facilitated by the regional office of International Business Machines Corp. But in a way, that's the whole point: With IBM's help, business people can communicate constructively and frankly, without participants' taking comments and criticisms personally. Because ideas--and reactions to those ideas--can be floated anonymously through IBM's TeamFocus software application, a successful IBM-style meeting takes on an air of exceptional honesty not always found at corporate meetings.

TeamFocus meetings take place in a special meeting room at the IBM office in downtown Indianapolis. In the room are networked personal computers set up on tables arranged in a circle. In front of the room is a projection video screen, which is also wired into the network. Corporations rent time in the meeting room, along with the services of a facilitator who helps participants make the most of their time. If executives find such meetings useful, IBM can outfit them with their own TeamFocus meeting rooms.

The meetings generally start with a couple of questions displayed on the computer screens. Participants ponder the questions, then key in their responses at the same time, anonymously. The responses appear on the screens, and participants may then enter comments and reactions. The process promotes not only honesty but also speed; with everyone communicating at once, a lot can be said quickly.

As the meeting participants trade comments electronically, the facilitator offers guidance, helping the group to organize ideas, evaluate alternatives, form policies and write action plans. Communication becomes both verbal and electronic as the meeting progresses from brainstorming to consensus building, though participants may still use the computers to vote on priorities.

Back in 1986, IBM gave $2 million to the University of Arizona to help it perfect the electronic-meeting concept. Now IBM has TeamFocus meeting rooms at numerous sites around the country, including offices in Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit. Among its Hoosier users is Indianapolis-based Methodist Hospital of Indiana.

Though IBM is trying to take the lead in the computer-meeting business, as the idea catches on it won't be the only player. Andersen Consulting, for example, is setting up its own meeting sites. Indiana University also has an electronic-meeting network, and more software is on the way to allow companies to set up meeting networks on their own.

It seems inevitable that before long, businesses will be talking less, yet acting more. Odd as that silence seems, it sounds like good business.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Meetings & Conventions; includes related articles and on upcoming 1992 conventions
Author:Keaton, Joanne
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:An unconventional meeting place? Once home to a Bloomington auto dealership, it's taken on a new life as Indiana's newest convention center.
Next Article:Southeast Indiana update.

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