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Greenwood marketing airport to Indy-bound pilots

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Conventions and major sporting events bring hundreds of private jets to Indianapolis each year, and Greenwood wants more of those planes landing at the city airport.

The Greenwood Municipal Airport is the closest suburban airport to downtown Indianapolis. Passengers don’t have to walk through a busy airport terminal or deal with the traffic that surrounds the airport in Indianapolis. And hotels in Greenwood are less expensive than downtown.

For those reasons, Greenwood could become more of a destination for small jet traffic, if pilots and companies know the airport exists, Greenwood economic development commission president Steve Spencer said.

More traffic at the airport would mean more revenue from fuel sales and hangar rentals and could help make the airport an economic hotspot for the city, Spencer said. That’s why the city wants to partner with central Indiana tourism group Visit Indy to promote the airport and other Greenwood attractions.

Johnson County doesn’t have a visitor and tourism bureau or an innkeeper’s tax that could help with efforts to market the county, which is why Greenwood is seeking help from Visit Indy, Spencer said. Since Visit Indy also books more than 500 conventions annually, a volunteer group or city employee could make calls to the convention organizer or groups that are attending and share information about Greenwood’s airport, he said.

“Let’s see if we can connect somehow and get the list of the conventions and contact them ahead of time and let them know about the airport. Our hotels and restaurants probably cost less than being in Marion County, too,” Spencer said.

Traffic at the airport already has increased year-to-year after upgrades to the facilities, including a runway extension in fall 2012 that gave jets more room to land, hangar repairs and demolition of the old Valle Vista water tower. In 2013, the airport sold about 50,000 more gallons of fuel, and average daily landings increased, compared with 2011.

About 35 jets landed in Greenwood when the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis in 2012, airport manager Rusty Nichols said. The city has been able to increase traffic by doing some local promotion, but the airport could bring in more private jets each day with more widespread marketing, he said.

“One of the best things we’ve got going for us is our location. We haven’t focused on promoting the airport, but in the past years we’ve stepped it up some, and we’re ready to do a little more,” Nichols said.

Since the Indiana Convention Center was remodeled, Visit Indy was able to book nearly 600 conventions last year and a similar number this year, spokesman Chris Gahl said. Those events can range from small business meetings of 50 people to national trade shows that bring 55,000 visitors into the city, he said.

Being able to present Greenwood as an option for jet traffic would give businesses executives or wealthy travelers taking in a sporting event another option for where to land, Gahl said.

Visit Indy’s fee is $950 per year for access to its convention list and other marketing services, so it’s affordable enough to try for a year or longer and see whether it can help boost airport traffic, Spencer said.

The deal also could help attract more tourism overall to Johnson County.

Although Visit Indy primarily promotes Indianapolis, the tourism group also partners with other regional groups, such as tourism bureaus in Columbus and Hendricks and Hamilton counties. Visitors coming to Indianapolis for a business trip often want to explore areas outside downtown and look for other opportunities, such as playing a round of golf in Hamilton County or making a trip to Columbus to see the city’s architecture, Gahl said.

By partnering with Visit Indy, Greenwood could get the group to help promote city hotels, restaurants or events such as WAMMfest, Spencer said. Johnson County hasn’t been as linked in as other counties to that regional tourism effort in the past, Gahl said.

“It’s hard when you don’t have a single voice and single entity. We are always open for strategic partnerships because those inevitably benefit the region,”

Gahl said.

In February, the county council voted against implementing a tax charged on hotel stays, which would have funded a tourism bureau tasked with marketing local events and attractions. Council members, county officials, chamber of commerce representatives and business owners have met periodically since to continue discussing the idea, county council president Beth Boyce said.

Business owners have discussed paying an annual fee to help support a local bureau, Boyce said. Supporters also are working on a plan to form a tourism group, set operating rules and create a business plan, which would address concerns some council members had during discussions of the tax, she said. The council has no immediate plans to reconsider the tax, but the work happening now could help in developing a new proposal, she said.

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