Chesterton Tribune



Tourism mulls tax funded grants for private groups

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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 theater.

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 recipients.

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.

Sports study

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.

More activities

-- 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 guide.

-- 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.

Treasurer’s Report

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.



Posted 12.24.2013




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