The Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis have earned COVID-19 mitigation accreditation from the internationally recognized Global Biorisk Advisory Council. The GBAC STAR accreditation indicates the two facilities are meeting the highest standards for cleaning, disinfecting and infectious disease prevention. Visit Indy Senior Vice President Chris Gahl says the credential was also a major factor in Indianapolis sealing the deal to host the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Gahl said the designation is the result of months of hard work and investment.
“It takes a lot of the hard work that we have put into place as a team into light; the fact that we’ve taken this pandemic very seriously and been proactive in putting $7 million in new health and safety upgrades into the Indiana Convention Center,” said Gahl. “That, in turn, has helped give confidence in meeting planners. We’ve had more than 30 events in the last half of 2020 convene in person in a safe environment in Indianapolis.”
The Indiana Convention Center closed in mid-March, and Gahl says the city’s Capital Improvement Board then took the opportunity to invest in upgrades. Some of the improvements included a hospital-grade air filtration system, hospital-grade cleaning systems, and touchless features throughout the facilities.
Only about 20% of convention centers in the U.S. have received the GBAC STAR accreditation. Gahl adds only five facilities in Indiana have received it.
Gahl says having the ability to safely host multiple events over the latter half of 2020, with the approval of the Marion County Public Health Department in addition to the accreditation, served as a proof of concept that it can be done.
“That, in turn, led to the NCAA having confidence and saying, ‘Yes, Indianapolis. We know you’ve hosted 30 events since last summer. We know they’ve been healthy and safe. We know you have this accreditation. We too have confidence in Indianapolis. Let’s put together a plan to host March Madness in its entirety inside this facility and many of your facilities that have been cleaned and proactively had safety measures put into place,'” said Gahl.
Gahl says he agrees with recent comments from Ball State University economist Mike Hicks, who says the March Madness tournament could generate more of an economic impact than the 2012 Super Bowl in Indy.
“There are so many factors that go into the economic impact of what an event generates and so talking to our economists and working through this event…it’s unprecedented. There’s a bunch of factors we’re not how (they) will come into play,” said Gahl. “We’ll be very anxious when those nets are cut down April 5 and a champion is crowned in Indianapolis to do a post-event economic impact study to see what this very unique, unprecedented event generated for the region and the state to make sure that we understand just how big of a deal this was from a dollars and cents perspective.”
Gahl adds the kinds of investments made by the CIB to upgrade the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium will become part of a “new normal” to ensure all visitors to these venues are safe and healthy.
“It’s not to say that wasn’t something that we cared about or worried about because pre-pandemic, each and every convention and event that was held in Indianapolis had a safety plan and a health plan. That’s part of how we conduct business in Indianapolis. During the pandemic, that has become even more important and so moving forward, we know that from an Indianapolis perspective, from the second you hit the airport all the way through meeting at the Indiana Convention Center or Lucas Oil Stadium, we want to keep you safe and healthy and we want that to be up front and paramount.”
Inside INdiana Business Reporter Wes Mills contributed to this report.
Gahl says says the designation is the result of months of hard work.