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.
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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.