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Study would look at whether Porter County Expo Center could be tourism draw

Updated: March 7, 2013 6:39AM



VALPARAISO — The Porter County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with a feasibility study of the Porter County Expo Center, but without the funding to support the work.

The total cost of the study is $83,500, with $49,000 of that being for a market demand analysis.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director Indiana Dunes Tourism, said if the analysis shows there isn’t a demand for the Expo Center, the project would stop there, without the additional outlay of funds.

But Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, told Weimer, who appeared with Ken Blaney, the center’s interim director, and Mitch Peters, board president for the tourism agency, that the county economic development income tax money that would pay for the project is still in the hands of the Porter County Council.

“As you know, we don’t have any funding right now,” Evans said, adding the county is looking at grant money as a way to pay for the study, which will be conducted by Minneapolis-based Conventions, Sports and Leisure International, in conjunction with the architectural firm Populous.

The Expo Center could become an anchor for tourism in the southern part of the county, offering indoor and outdoor facilities that could include an amphitheater for concerts, ice-skating, and an arena that could host BMX races and horse shows, Peters said.

Improving the center piecemeal is counterintuitive, he added, noting the center is falling into disrepair.

“It’s 29 years old. It’s time to look at upgrades,” Peters said.

A study several years ago made recommendations for improving tourism in the county, Weimer said, and those included redevelopment of the Expo Center to make it a multi-use facility.

“The anchor for tourism is the dunes and you can’t top that, but the Expo Center could be a second anchor,” she said, adding it also could fill a niche for agricultural shows.

Evans said commissioners also have been talking about updating the audio and video capabilities at the Expo Center, which are 29 years old as well. Blaney has two proposals for the work and is looking for a third before presenting them to the commissioners.

“It’s not going to be inexpensive,” Evans said.

In other business, the county will be getting nine Ford Interceptors for the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, as well as two F-150 pickups and one Ford Fusion for the county, for a total cost of $345,687.

The Interceptors are $23,000 each, not including lights, computers and other necessities, said Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center.



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