Tourism funding for county-owned venues

Published on : Tuesday, October 26, 2021

By now, Lorelei Weimer knows that the visitor center on Ind. 49 in Porter in five years will require a new roof along with a new parking lot. The worst part is keeping enough money in the reserve for the said projects.

Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, informed the Porter County Council the two projects will cost $200,000 each. When the 15-year-old visitor center was made, the agency started keeping money in the reserve fund for important repairs that might happen in the coming days, but the costs are higher than predicted 15 years ago. The savings won’t be enough.

The COVID-19 has hit the hospitality industry in the hardest possible way, which is yet another challenge for the 2022 budget of the agency. Fewer people putting up in hotels mean less revenue for the self-funded agency.

That comes while county-owned tourism venues have been hit hard by the pandemic. At present, the Memorial Opera House is open which remained closed for 16 months. The Expo Center remained closed for a year. The Porter County Museum remains closed to the public. The parks department was also hit in the bad way with capacity limits on programs.

The County Council in 2019 included $150,000 in the tourism bureau’s budget to help with marketing for the four venues. That meant $38,120.04 to the Expo Center, which Director Lori Daly was very obliging, bearing in mind the recently remodeled facility needed to be marketed for weddings and other events.

For Indiana Dunes Tourism, the name change to Indiana Dunes National Park has been advantageous for the county’s No. 1 tourist to see a dramatic rise in the visitor numbers. At the agency’s visitor center, which is shared with the national park, “we’re interacting with visitors who have chosen our destination” and sending them to local restaurants, shops and other venues, Weimer said.

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