Chesterton Tribune



Innkeepers tax working wonders for Porter County government venues

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The four Porter County venues receiving additional funds this year from the County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission (PCCRVC) reported last week their marketing efforts are flourishing this year because of it.

“We were able to achieve success that we couldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for the funding we get through (the PCCRVC),” said Scot McDonald, the new director of the County-owned Memorial Opera House in downtown Valparaiso.

The PCCRVC’s budget is funded by a five-percent innkeepers tax charged to room-renters, similar to a sales tax. The fund has been the frozen for a few years at $89,100 shared by four venues -- the Porter County Parks Department, the Memorial Opera House, the Porter County Museum and the Expo Center -- for marketing and event promotions aimed at attracting out-of-county visitors.

This year, however, the County Council increased the PCCRVC’s venue fund in its budget to $150,000 with the Opera House, Museum and Expo Center each getting $20,300 more. The Parks will however stay at $35,640.

The PCCRVC board asks the venues annually or bi-annually to present how the funds are being utilized. The board met with venue directors at Brincka-Cross Gardens County Park on Thursday to hear presentations.

County Parks

Playing host at the meeting, Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos first told anecdotally of the contentious path the Parks Department had to acquire Brincka-Cross Gardens about seven years ago when there were doubts whether the County was suited to care for the 25-acre property and its four acres of inspiring gardens.

The parks added 37 acres and one and one and half miles of trail since last year and Lenckos said he continually gets compliments from those who knew the original owners, William Brincka and Basil Cross.

Lenckos said one of the lesser known amenities his department has been promoting is the amphitheater at Sunset Hill Farm, with a growing list of events including the Lightning Bug Music Festival.

The upcoming Spring Out to Sunset Festival planned for May 21 will feature vintage baseball and the second annual Home Brew Competition.

The Winter Lights Displays were viewed by over 20,000 people during the holidays.

“It’s our product that people want to be part of,” said Lenckos.

Lenckos said the department’s $82,000 marketing budget that the innkeepers tax grant is a part of is spent mostly, about $65,000 worth, on its programming guide mailed out three times a year to residents.

“When they hit mailboxes, our phones start going crazy,” said Lenckos.

The biggest single event to market is the Winter Lights Festival at $9,600, followed by the Spring Out Festival at $3,600.

Lenckos said the Parks Department is poised for growth with its Aukiki Park and Hawk Ridge Natural Area under development.

PCCRVC board member Doug Olson said he’s “amazed all the time” at the what the department can do without having a separate tax rate as other counties in the state do.

Expo Center

Next, Expo Center Lori Daly said that attendance at the facility on the northeast corner of Division Rd. and Ind. 49 has grown steadily since she started in late 2014, with a renewed focus on social media marketing.

Daly said the Expo Center’s Facebook page saw a 25 percent increase in the number of “Likes” in 2015 for a total currently of over 8,800.

The number of events from 2014 to 2015 increased by 37 percent, Daly said, and drew in 20,000 people from outside of Northwest Indiana, not counting the Porter County Fair.

Daly said the Expo Center will beef up its marketing this year. Last year the number of dollars spent was smaller than $17,000.

Opera House

Also seeing a turnaround is the Memorial Opera House from efforts both social media and non-social media related.

McDonald, who previously was MOH’s artistic director for the past four years, said the historical theater facility went through “a bit of a rough patch” as 2015 got started but things began to smooth out after added performances of the successful run of “Les Miserables.”

Letting the patrons pick the shows for the 2016 season was another way to build success. MOH sold 15 percent more tickets in 2015 and has been selling at a rate of about 35 percent more so far in 2016. McDonald said the venue could sell 50 percent more tickets this year over 2014.

A Facebook campaign led by Curt Ellis, who also oversees the Porter County Government’s Facebook page, has more than doubled the number of views for the MOH Facebook event page views.

Word of mouth is still the best method of advertising, McDonald said. The MOH has received compliments on the new mailers not looking like “junk mail,” he joked.

McDonald said partnerships have also been key. One of those includes Paper Mill Playhouse which helps produce works for Broadway, he said.

County Museum

Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, it has been a record year for the Porter County Museum for attendance, at least in recent memory.

Museum Executive Director Kevin Pazour said he got involved with the museum about 15 years ago, it was considered “lucky” to see 1,100 people come through the doors in year, usually folks who just wanted to someplace to take their out-of-town friends or relatives to.

Last year, however, Pazour said more than 8,000 have visited in 2015 and he’s estimating about 10,000 will visit this year with the next 100 years initiative.

Residents are encouraged to give their suggestions on what stories they would like to see the Museum to tell in the years to come.

“This is the perfect opportunity to capture the thoughts and dreams of the people who live here,” Pazour said.

With marketing, the museum is teaming up with the six other smaller museums in the county to tell their stories, Pazour added.

The County Museum will be expanding to 16 Indiana Ave. with phase 2 of construction starting next month. The 14,000 sq. ft. building will be ADA accessible and will be able to facilitate all day field trips, Pazour said.

Pazour also shared with the board that Thursday the Indiana Historical Society designated him as the official historian of Porter County, one of the youngest ever in the state.


Posted 4/26/2016




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