Chesterton Tribune


Commissioners want to enlarge PCCRVC to promote sports tourism

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Sports are a becoming big business in Porter County and have the untapped potential to boost the county’s tourism market according to Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.

On Tuesday, Evans stopped the commissioners’ meeting for a minute to announce that the board “has decided in its best interest” to call for an ordinance adding two additional members to the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission who would also be part of a subcommittee tasked with taking a closer at promoting and expanding amateur sports throughout the county.

“Times change and so do the needs of our organizations. We believe the tourism bureau is one of those,” Evans said.

The PCCRVC has served the county well in its 30-year existence by promoting the county’s natural assets such as the dunes lakeshore and the cities and towns, he said, and it is part of the county’s economic development efforts. But there is a growing opportunity to find and build venues that can bring thousands of visitors from all over to Porter County for events and activities, Evans said.

Evans said the two new members will be assigned with examining the “organizational structure and focus” of the tourism bureau and come up with strategies to expand sports programs. Applications will be taken over the next ten days and are available on the Commissioners’ website, Evans said.

The appointments are expected to be announced at the Commissioner’s next meeting on April 16 as soon as the proper ordinances can be written and approved, Evans said.

If approved, the number of PCCRVC members will shift from nine to eleven with a total five commissioner appointments. Other appointments are made by the County Council (1), the mayor of Portage (2), the mayor of Valparaiso (1), the Hebron/Kouts town councils (1), and the Chesterton/Porter/Burns Harbor town councils (1). Each County Commissioner has their own appointment but the proposed two will be jointly decided between the Commissioners, Evans said.

PCCRVC board members do not receive pay.

The subcommittee will include some current PCCRVC board members and one or two citizens who have an expertise in sports marketing.

Evans said Lake County has for a while been successful with bringing amateur sports competitions into its neck of the woods and said Porter County should be able to do the same given its “central location” along Lake Michigan, Interstate 94 and the Indiana Toll Road.

While the demand for outdoor sports has led to more sports fields in the county, Evans said he feels there is a need for more indoor events like swimming pools or an ice rink. He also listed baseball, basketball, football, softball, and soccer as amateur sports to court.

PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer later on Tuesday said that sports are growing in every category and in every age group. The tourism bureau has promoted many of the County’s sports events widely through niche marketing and efforts are likely to step up to see how a new sports approach can drive tourism dollars, she said. “We want to be very strategic in how we move down the road.”

A recent study done by Certec Inc. revealed that only 4 percent of tourism dollars are spent on sporting events in Porter County while 80 percent of them are spent on leisure and the PCCRVC wishes to concentrate on shrinking that gap, Weimer said.

The first steps for the subcommittee would be to undertake feasibility studies of facilities that already exist in the county to determine what their potential is for holding sports events, Weimer said. She encouraged the group to call upon Don Schumacher, CEO of the National Association of Sports Commissions, who previously spoke to county tourism officials in 2009.

As for the revamped board, Lorelei said 11 members will be “manageable.” The number of tourism commission members vary throughout the state, she said, some with as many as 20 to 30 members.

South County Park

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, on Tuesday said the county parks department has the intention of purchasing land in the southern portion of the county to provide sports fields to those residents.

“It’s long overdue,” she said.

Blaney said the County has received two appraisals for a 55-acre parcel of land on the southeast corner of Ind. 49 and County Road 550 South across from where Baums Bridge Road starts.

With funds restored to the parks’ land purchase budget, it is expected that the County will go through with the purchase soon, Blaney said.

The potential purchase is expected to be discussed by the county park board on Thursday.

Airport development plan

In the form of a resolution, the Commissioners accepted a plan envisioning the development of 15 square miles surrounding the Porter County Regional Airport for the next thirty years where U.S. 30 and Ind. 49 meet.

The plan drafted under the title “In Plane View” was adopted by county planners in March, Plan Commission Director Robert Thompson said. No zoning changes are being asked for but the planners have asked that an overlay be created where potentially a new 7,000 feet north-south runway could be built.

The area could see up to 16,000 additional jobs in the next 30 years, Thompson said, with growth in its industrial areas to the south. A buffer will be used in the agricultural sections to the east where Pinney-Purdue Farm conducts research.

Thompson said the plan includes the expansion of roads around the county fairgrounds and Expo Center.

Other approvals

* The Commissioners accepted a bid of $377,000 from Mechanical Concepts of Gary to replace the HVAC systems at the County Administration Building, the County Jail, and the County Courthouse. Representatives from DLZ said the work is to be completed in four months. CCD funds will pay for systems at the Administration Building and Courthouse while the jail refinance bond will pay for the jail’s system.

* Consultant agreements were approved amongst the three department heads. The Recorder will begin a system with Simplifile E-Recording Services that will enable the office to produce titles and deeds in a web-based electronic form that can be sent easily to other County offices.

The treasurer’s office was approved a not-to-exceed $25,000 agreement with Atos web development company to help taxpayers pay their bills online.

The auditor’s office was approved three different contracts, two of which were not-to-exceed $90,000 and a third not-to-exceed $27,000, as well as another contract with Government Fixed Asset Services worth $7,850 for tasks that had been carried out by the total quality management program. Funding requests will now need approval from the County Council.