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.
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.
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
Daly said the Expo
Center will beef up its marketing this year. Last year the number of dollars
spent was smaller than $17,000.
Also seeing a
turnaround is the Memorial Opera House from efforts both social media and
non-social media related.
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
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.
partnerships have also been key. One of those includes Paper Mill Playhouse
which helps produce works for Broadway, he said.
100th anniversary in 2016, it has been a record year for the Porter County
Museum for attendance, at least in recent memory.
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.
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