Chesterton Tribune



County Council approves $400,000 for Visitor Center redesign project

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The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission cleared a big step Tuesday in starting its renovation project for the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center with the County Council’s approval of $400,000 in innkeepers tax collections earmarked for the work.

The price tag for the whole renovation is estimated at $1.6 million and the PCCRVC is working on raising funds with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which leases portions of the visitor center from the County. PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer told the Council the National Park Service has money this fiscal year to put towards the renovation. All funding would have to come through the PCCRVC’s budget, Weimer said.

“The redevelopment of the visitor center is the number one priority for the National Lakeshore so we are trying to find out how to come up with the $1.6 million,” Weimer said.

Planning for the center’s redesign began about four years ago. Weimer, accompanied by National Lakeshore Superintendent Paul Labovitz, gave the County Council a presentation Tuesday highlighting the different components -- a community room, moving the front desk, interactive displays and maps with video features.

“We think we can take the Visitor Center to another level and make it more experiential. It would be an attraction in and of itself,” Weimer said. Twenty percent of the new design will be physical changes while most will be for new exhibits, she added.

The focus of the new community room will be to direct visitors into the different communities in the county and be a boon to the economy. More than 100,000 visitors walked in to the visitor center last year, she said.

The request prompted little discussion from the Council. Innkeepers tax funds are collected from hoteliers and places that lodge visitors overnight.

The Council voted 7-0 on a motion made by Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, to accept the request.

Weimer said the PCCRVC and the Lakeshore are seeking sponsorships to generate more funding.

Also approved were a $15,000 request to pay the janitorial contract with Opportunity Enterprises, which doubled since last year, and a $65,000 request to pay for 2016 marketing expenses that were pushed back to 2017.

Attorney fees

The Council will ask the Commissioners and County Attorney Scott McClure to attend its August meeting to address expenses regarding attorney fees for this year.

A request to transfer $75,000 in the Commissioners’ General Fund budget from salaries to contractual attorney costs prompted discussion by the Council as to how to sustain funding for the rest of the year considering $106,822 was budgeted for attorneys and only a little over $1,000 is left.

Whitten said the Council at budget hearings last fall agreed to group most of the County’s attorney fees into that line item to consolidate costs.

The meeting agenda stated the transfer is needed to replenish the fund due to payments of unbudgeted expenses with the County Assessor’s attorney. Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, said Assessor Jon Snyder has been working with an attorney to resolve a large property tax appeal by Pines Retirement Village. The appeal should be wrapped up soon, Biggs said, and the $75,000 should keep the fund in the black for the rest of the year.

The Council approved the transfer 7-0, with member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, noting “it’s just transferring money in the budget to cover costs.” Whitten then asked to see what the anticipated cost projections are at the next meeting.

Capital projects

In another transfer requested by the Commissioners, the Council approved $20,000 of County Economic Development Income Tax to pay for design services for the rehabilitation of the County Administration Building’s front entrance plaza. Biggs said getting the work done is “priority number one” since the plaza steps are blocked off.

Rivas asked Biggs the status with the Commissioners’ plan to acquire the former jail building at 157 Franklin St. in Valparaiso. Biggs said the appraisals should be back next week and the Commissioners will discuss the costs with the Council next month and the possibility of bonding to purchase the building.

According to the Commissioners’ Capital Projects Plan, the building has space where the County could put some offices.

Council member Andy Bozak, R-1st, inquired about the former Animal Shelter facility off Ind. 2. Biggs said that the building will be torn down in the next month.



Posted 7/28/2017




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