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
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,”
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
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
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
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
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
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