Chesterton Tribune


Commissioners approve firm to do Expo Center study

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It’s happened once before but the Porter County Commissioners said yes a second time to moving forward on a feasibility study that could make the Porter County Expo Center an even bigger tourist magnet.

Mitch Peters, president of the county’s Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission, said the board of commissioners gave the nod to putting in motion a process to get the study done, as advocated by the PCCRVC’s branding team just a little more than a year ago. Funding for the request had been put on hold by the Commissioners as the County was moving through a tight budget session at the time.

The study was first recommended by Destination Development International while helping the county tourism bureau create unique brands for each community.

Peters said DDI saw a number of features that could be added – an indoor/outdoor amphitheater, ice skating rink, exhibit shows, and new programs for the grandstands such as BMX motocross racing and horse shows.

“We feel it is important to have a south anchor for tourism in the county,” Peters said.

PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said the branding team emphasized that the Expo Center “can’t be a one-trick pony. It has to be a multi-use facility with a lot of things going on.”

Peters said the feasibility study could very well suggest other things less recreational such as a new parking garage.

Even before DDI gave its input, the Expo Center, located at county fairgrounds on Division Rd. and Ind. 49, for a while has been eyed as a potential hotel and regional convention center.

The facility’s current director Ken Blaney said the place is in need of rehab work to its audio and video equipment and will make a request to the commissioners soon. He and Peters said the building is 29 years old and is “falling into disrepair.”

Weimer said the study would cost upwards of $83,500 starting with a market identification and demand analysis with a price tag of $49,000 that would first determine if these enhancements are worth pursuing.

Weimer said if the analysis does show a big enough demand, more components of the study will be implemented, but if there isn’t, the project will come to a rest.

The firm the PCCRVC recommended to perform the study is Conventions, Sports and Leisure International (CSL), a Minneapolis-based firm specializing in convention, entertainment, sport and visitor industries in conjunction with the architectural firm Populous.

But just like the last time the request was made, the commissioners delayed funding the effort with county economic development income tax at their meeting Tuesday.

As he has conveyed to numerous departments which have made funding pitches to the board this new year, Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the County Council has not approved use of any CEDIT money this year and the Commissioners cannot move forward until it does so.

While the group agreed to wait for funding at a later date, Evans said he will contact a local grant writer about opportunities to pick up some outside revenue.

Peters said that given the ailing conditions he would like to see a long-term funding plan for the Expo Center instead of in a piecemeal plan.

ADA plan adopted

A well-known opponent of unfunded mandates, Evans with some reluctance agreed to adopt the finished ADA Self-Evaluation and Self-Evaluation Plan of all county facilities along with fellow Commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration has required all local governments this year to forge a plan to bring all their services into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. If not, governments would not be eligible to receive highway funds from the Feds.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson presented the completed 113-page document to the Commissioners that outlines how to bring each county building, sidewalk, and roadways up to ADA standards. The County last year hired the engineering firm American Structurepoint of Indianapolis at a cost of up to $150,000 in CEDIT funds to help come up with the plan.

Thompson said the County meets the requirements by having the plan in place but there is no definite timeline to complete all the tasks that are included in it.

“They just have to see that some progress is being done,” Thompson said.

“We’ll get right on that,” Evans said.

PCSP gets new cars

Also on Tuesday, the board voted 3-0 to use $345,687 in available CCD funds to add a few more sets of wheels to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police fleet.

The department will be getting nine Ford Interceptors at about $23,000 each. Also purchased for the County are two F-150 pickup trucks and a Ford Fusion.

Evans said he would like to resolve a matter regarding the purchase of replacement vehicles for whenever the PCSP wreck or total a car in an accident. The check for the vehicle goes to the County’s general fund but Evans argued it should go to back to the CCD fund that is used to purchase police vehicles.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said he believes the County can direct the money from one fund to another without approving a new ordinance but he will check to make sure.

In other business:

-- Evans gave a hurrah to the Commissioner’s new appointee on the Gary/Chicago Airport Authority, Nikki Thorne, for her solitary “no” vote in the airport board’s decision to hire a lobbyist for $10,000 to monitor a bill proposed by State Senator Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, which would expand the number of governor appointments to five instead of one. This would take the majority away from the City of Gary whose mayor currently gets four appointments on the seven-member board.

-- The Commissioners said yes to a request by the Prevent Child Abuse Porter County to place blue ribbons at the County administration building in April in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The group will organize a walk on Saturday, April 20, starting at 10 a.m. at the administration building.



Posted 2/6/2013