The Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission is looking
to boost sports tourism and upgrade the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center.
The board met Thursday to appoint committees for 2014. PCCRVC executive
director Lorelei Weimer said she will be part of a committee along with
assistant director Christine Livingston, operations director Patti Boyer,
and an interpreter of the National Parks Service to begin the second phase
of development of public space at the visitor center shared between the NPS
and the PCCRVC.
Enhancing the visitor center had been suggested at the start of this year by
the Nichols Tourism Group, emphasizing the use of digital media and
experiential elements to tell the story of the Dunes in the lobby and the
A request for qualifications was sent to five firms who specialize in
designing exhibit spaces at visitor centers and three of them responded. The
new committee will look at the RFQ’s to choose the firm to do the concept
design, which will be used in a fundraising campaign.
The upgrades are expected to cost in the range of $1 million to $1.5
million, which Weimer said could be funded with grants and other sources.
The PCCRVC currently does not have funding in its budget for exhibits.
Also in 2014, the PCCRVC grant committee will look at extending eligibility
for tourism promotion grants to private entities that have events drawing
interest from outside the county and other possible policy changes.
Under the current guidelines, only not-for-profit groups and cities and
towns can apply for grant money to promote festivals and special events.
First-year applicants can receive up to $5,000 in matching grant funds,
second-year applicants can apply for $2,500 and the third year up to $1,500.
The grants are funded with Porter County tax dollars raised through the
innkeepers tax collected by local hotels.
Applicants are not allowed to apply after the third year. As more
organizations reach the limit, there are fewer eligible applications.
Several established local festivals and events have lost their grant funding
in recent years. Previous recipients included the Chesterton Art Fair,
Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, and the Portage Elvis Fest.
The committee will look at extending the tax-funded grants to more private
groups, Weimer said.
For 2014, the board approved $26,800 for 10 non-profit organizations and
government agencies compared to more than $40,000 for 2013 with 36
Meanwhile, board treasurer Richard Riley said the group of community
partners and attorneys for the Dunes-Kankakee Trail are continuing to meet.
The group is considering how to divide maintenance responsibilities for the
Trail as well as who will be the “one big administrator.”
“Everyone thinks that should be the County,” Riley said.
The Dunes-Kankakee Trail, the first phase of which was recently completed
from the entrance of Indiana Dunes State Park to the South Shore Dunes train
station, will wind through the cities and towns of Porter, Chesterton,
Valparaiso, Kouts and possibly Hebron.
Weimer reported that the PCCRVC is expected to receive a strategic report
from its newly formed sports cabinet in February. The cabinet over the
summer held several organizational meetings and conducted interviews with
stakeholders to determine the demand for sports development and what
facilities are already available.
The County has honored the PCCRVC’s request to hire Conventions, Sports &
Leisure International of Plano, Texas, to conduct the feasibility study for
amateur sports which will be coupled with the feasibility study for
developments at the Porter County Expo Center and Fairgrounds.
Weimer said the report will show what kinds of revenue potential there is
for sports and recommendations for what types of facilities to pursue
building. The goal would be to attract tourism thus boosting the local
economy with tournament events as well as looking at what can be done to
diversify amateur sports opportunities for local residents.
One of the consultants who met with the cabinet in September was Steve
Henke, developer for the Grand Park sports complex in Westfield, Ind. near
Indianapolis, the largest youth sports complex in the nation with 26 fields
for baseball/softball and 31 fields of soccer/rugby/football/lacrosse.
The Cabinet in October toured the development to study how Porter County
could use the construction as a model. The complex reportedly cost $45
million to construct.
Weimer said the developer indicated that building a smaller-scale model of
the facility would be better suited for the County and there is a strong
chance for the facility to be successful being in proximity to the Dunes.
Sponsorships would be sought to help pay for construction.
-- The PCCRVC is working with the Beyond the Beach Trail partners to look
for more ways to enhance those properties. Weimer said the more recent
meetings saw collaboration among the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy,
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Dunes State Park,
Jasper-Pulaski, Kankakee Sands, the National Park Service and Taltree
Arboretum to enhance experiences for bird watchers around Northwest Indiana.
Birding groups are being consulted for improvements to the PCCRVC’s birding
-- To meet the demands of technology, the PCCRVC is transitioning to a
responsive design site that will be easier to navigate with mobile
smartphones. The site is four years old and the overall graphic design will
be enhanced by the original developer, making information easier to find.
-- The agency’s niche marketing promotions are looking at doing more for
fishing interests in the county. A focus group met in November to modify the
PCCRVC fishing guide. It was determined that anglers seek good restaurant
and mid-range hotels. The group discussed how the Coffee Creek Watershed
Preserve could be used as a salmon spawning viewing site.
-- The Visitors Center saw 4,840 visitors in October and 2,024 visitors in
November adding to a yearly total so far of 72,143 visitors.
Having not met since September, the board approved three months of
collections from the County Innkeeper Tax.
The September check was $160,505 which was a year-to-date cash basis
increase of 2.5 percent from 2012. The October check was $134,187 which was
a YTD cash basis decrease of .4 percent from 2012. The November check was
$134,189 which is a YTD cash basis increase of 2.8 percent from 2012.