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File photos
Participants in the American Taekwondo Association Regional Tournament line up for that event’s opening ceremony at the Grand Wayne Center in February.

Big bang for our bucks

The state Democratic Convention was one of the events hosted by the Grand Wayne Center in 2012.

Over the last couple of decades, city leaders have made major investments – many using a significant pile of public dollars – to bolster the community’s convention and tourism infrastructure. A full slate of national conventions, meetings and youth sporting events is proof taxpayers are getting a good return on those investments.

This is shaping up to be Fort Wayne’s biggest year for national conventions and sporting events. Visit Fort Wayne, the area’s tourism organization, announced Tuesday that more than 20 national events are scheduled in the area.

“The expansion of the Grand Wayne Center was $30 million,” said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne. “Eighty percent of that was paid with the room tax, and 20 percent came from various incremental taxes. This year alone we will have $40 million in business.”

O’Connell rightly points out that those national conventions alone exceed the investment in the Grand Wayne Center many times over what taxpayers put into it.

“The same can be said for the Coliseum,” he added.

Some of the larger national events scheduled include:

• The National Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference with an estimated 1,000 delegates.

•The National Brewery Collectibles of America CANvention with an estimated 2,000 attending.

•The National Youth Basketball Tour Championship Tournament with an estimated 5,000 attendees.

More than 80 state or regional events are also scheduled. Altogether, they are expected to bring more than 136,000 visitors to the community, as well as the estimated $40 million in tourism dollars.

“The community should be extra proud,” O’Connell said. “You only get so far with chairs and chicken. You have to make the experience memorable and worthwhile.”

Visit Fort Wayne made the announcement of the record convention year to coincide with National Tourism Week, which recognizes the economic importance of tourism.

“It’s National Tourism Week, and I thought it was interesting that we have so many national conventions,” said O’Connell. “It’s unusually high. We’ve been growing the tourism market and we’ve been growing the convention market since the renovation doubled (the Grand Wayne Center’s) size.”

Normally the center has about 35 conventions.

This year it will be closer to 55.

“The other thing that should not be lost is the quality-of-life assets that all companies are looking for when they decide where to locate,” O’Connell said. “Many of those quality-of-life things are tourism venues.”

Those things that entice people to visit Fort Wayne – the zoo, the Allen County Public Library, the sports venues – also make Fort Wayne a great place to live.