Old National Events Plaza
Evansville’s premier events space
At Old National Events Plaza, the sky’s the limit to showcase top events
Evansville, Indiana’s premier convention center and largest live event theater will go above and beyond to give its clients, event planners, and event goers the best possible experience.
“There’s always a way to find the ‘Yes,’” says Nick Wallace, General Manager. “We are trying to find the Yes when we are interacting with our clients. No is not the automatic answer. We always try to find a solution to make things happen.
“At the end of the day, that’s what hospitality and tourism are all about, finding the solution.”
With 95,000 square feet of flexible event space, Old National Events Plaza can meet the needs of almost any live face-to-face event. The plaza offers 36,000 square feet of column-free carpeted exhibit hall, 13,500 square feet of flexible ballroom space, and 12,000 square feet in its Locust and Walnut meeting space. In the Aiken Theatre, 2500 seats are spread across four floors to offer tiered seating with great views.
“We host banquets both large and small scale, we host multi-day conferences and conventions that feature breakouts and main speakers with our exhibit hall that breaks down into halves,” Wallace says. “And that all surrounds the Aiken Theater, which is typically for your touring shows, whether it be Broadway, comedy, or music concerts. We just have a lot to offer. We are basically a mini complex when it comes to live events.”
The events plaza is owned by Vanderburgh County and managed by ASM Global, which runs event venues across the world. Old National Events Plaza offers free parking with 1100 spaces, free WiFi, an in-house event coordinator, a full-service audio-visual provider on-site, and in-house catering by SAVOR.
Since the pandemic has slowed down, business has amped back up at Old National Events Plaza. Most nights they have 65 to 70% of the building full of events ranging from conferences, sports conventions, agricultural events, and corporate gatherings. The theater is bustling with a full schedule of performers coming in throughout the next year.
The stage recently sold out two John Mellencamp concerts, with a sold-out Foreigner concert as well. Coming up on the docket are performances from comedian Nate Bargatze and Chicago. There are events for the whole family, as well, with Blippi’s Wonderful World, Bluey’s Big Play, and Disney’s Encanto sing-along concert playing through the summer.
Coming up this fall is Wheel of Fortune Live, Styx, and comedian John Crist. November is the theater’s Broadway season, followed by Christmas programming with offerings like the Nutcracker Ballet in December.
“As far as ’23 goes, we’ve got quite a few dates in the theater,” Wallace says.
Old National Events Plaza is ideally located to draw in crowds from out of town. It spans an entire city block in downtown Evansville, which is Indiana’s third-largest city. It is centrally located in Louisville, Nashville, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and St Louis. The city is home to 3900 hotel rooms, with 800 located in the downtown core.
Adding to the convenience is a 241-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel that is directly connected to the events plaza by a skywalk. Since DoubleTree came online, Old National Events Plaza has seen a significant uptick in events.
“They’ve been great partners to work with on getting some of these larger state and regional groups in here,” Wallace says.
Business was on a steady rise for the plaza in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, bringing live events to a screeching halt in March. Rather than sit empty and unused, they quickly pivoted, becoming a much-needed resource for the community.
“We repurposed ourselves as more of a community and city-county government facility because we had the space and it was out of use,” Wallace says. “There was a lot of crucial governmental activity that needed to continue during the pandemic. So, we went from hosting banquets and concerts to city council meetings, and county council meetings, we took on misdemeanor and juvenile traffic courts. We basically flipped on a dime and continued to stay relevant.”
They assisted their local health department to help with pandemic-related communication and vaccination efforts, and they hosted vaccine clinics. As restrictions began to withdraw, they eased their way back into the live event space by offering socially distanced entertainment.
Old National Event Plaza was able to keep up its funding throughout the pandemic shutdowns by applying for and receiving funding from the Cares Act thanks to their government activity, FEMA for their vaccination efforts, and the SBA through its shuttered vending operators grant program.
“We continued to work on ways to serve the community in a different capacity, rather than generate face-to-face business opportunities or live entertainment,” Wallace says. “We still made sure things were happening. And at the end of the day, we were able to stay relevant and stay open during the entirety of the pandemic.”
Being able to stay open, stay relevant and be successful is a driving force for the events center because of the impact it has on the surrounding community, Wallace says.
“Providing opportunities for our local businesses, bringing in those multi-day tourists for business opportunities, for our conventions and conferences – it’s huge,” he says. “We’re getting people in from outside of the region, drawing them downtown into the local restaurants and businesses there. We become part of the master plan with our local convention and visitor’s bureau to be an economic center to bring those folks in here to fill our hotel rooms, to have them spend their discretionary income on our local business. Creating these opportunities to drive economic development not only downtown but the entire county is really where we fulfill our mission.”
Old National Events Plaza works with several partners to bring their mission to reality. They work regularly with the Vanderburgh County Board of Commissioners, as well as the city destination management organization, Visit Evansville, and local hotels including the DoubleTree, Hyatt Place, and Holiday Inn Express.
For service providers, Old National Event Plaza relies on the help of Concept Sound and Light for audio-visual effects for the theater side and Bravo Media Group for the conference and convention side.
“They’ve been able to assist our clients and educate us, as well, on what their capabilities are and what makes sense for making these events extremely successful,” Wallace says.
Wallace credits Vanderburgh County Council for its support in getting funding for capital projects and appropriation requests.
“Any capital ideas, they’ve been extremely forward thinking when it comes to opportunities to make our operation more successful,” he says. “We definitely have to shout out to them.”
Right now, Old National Events Plaza has a list of projects they hope to complete for 2023 that will help enhance the experience at the event plaza, primarily in the food and beverage sector. They’re also hoping to do some infrastructure upgrades for things like HVAC, which haven’t been updated since the early 2000s.
“We’re creating opportunities to provide better, more efficient service for those clients that have multi-meal events. We’re upscaling our dining options,” Wallace says.
With the pandemic now largely in the rearview, clients are moving away from virtual events and are ready to come back to in-person meetings. That’s come with its own set of challenges, Wallace says. The event center had to refocus its efforts to help groups and event planners ease the transition back to live events.
“We’ve seen challenges with some of our recurring annual events that are still trying to figure out how to bring their events back in a similar capacity,” he explains. “We’ve been having discussions with those clients about what things could look like as far as a soft launch. Some have brought things back full steam as if there was no pandemic to mixed success. So what we’ve found is we are having more conversations around what their event looks like and what success looks like to them. What worked pre-pandemic may not always work post-pandemic.”
Ginger Harper, Old National Event Plaza’s director of sales and marketing agrees.
“The largest challenge that we have experienced in the past 24 months and I think for hospitality providers in general, has been the human aspect and reconnecting people to each other while realigning expectations,” she says. “We have to connect current expectations with past performance and ensure that all parties are doing well in that process.”
Looking to the future, Wallace says his focus will be on moving forward and making sure that their service expectations match their clients’ expectations.
“We’ve got a phenomenal team here within these walls and outside these walls to really push the emphasis on client services for anyone that’s coming into the destination,” he says. “We want to create better experiences for those folks that we are partnering with because, without them, we don’t exist.”
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AT A GLANCE
Old National Event Plaza
What: A top-tier event center with an impressive showcase of events geared toward the community
Where: Evansville, Indiana
Nederlander National Markets – https://nederlander.com/nederlander-national-markets/
Nederlander National Markets, a Nederlander Presentation based in Chicago, is one of the largest presenters of Broadway series and engagements across North America. Currently, they oversee subscription seasons in more than 20 cities throughout the country.
Nederlander continues the tradition of operating historic theatres, producing and presenting the best in theatrical and concert events, and innovating new ways to engage future generations of theatergoers.