Region needs real convention center, tourism chief says
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent September 4, 2013 6:44PM
Speros Batistatos, president of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, announced major changes Thursday to the South Shore Air Show. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:46PM
VALPARAISO — Speros Batistatos, president and chief executive officer of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, told the Kiwanis Club Wednesday that what his remarks lacked in brevity, they would make up for in controversy.
Batistatos held true to his word, knocking Gary’s Genesis Center and noting the region’s need for a convention center.
He also declared his group should be the only tourism authority serving the region.
The Radisson Hotel in Merrillville is a privately owned hotel with a conference center, not a convention center, Batistatos said, adding there’s a “desperate need” in the region for a convention center.
The Genesis Center, opened in 1981, “was obsolete the day it was built,” he said at Strongbow Inn, adding it isn’t a convention center, either.
Larger cities like Chicago and Indianapolis are too expensive for smaller conventions, a niche this area could fill with the right facility, Batistatos said. That would be 200,000 to 300,000 square feet, with half of that dedicated to convention floor space, and it would be paid for with either hotel or food and beverage income tax money.
Though he wouldn’t name a community, Batistatos said the center should be located with hotels, shopping and dining. “We know where that is. I don’t need to say it.”
This is the first year the South Shore visitors group is among the sponsors of Valparaiso’s Popcorn Festival, which takes place downtown on Saturday. Batistatos chalked up the festival, and a national girls softball tournament held last year, as some of his agency’s accomplishments in Porter County.
“I’m doing a lot for Porter County. I’m doing a lot more for Porter County than your visitors bureau,” he said.
Batistatos has long advocated for one visitors bureau – his – to serve the region.
“The visitor doesn’t know where the county lines are, and the visitor doesn’t care where the county lines are,” he said. “We are spending and wasting tax money trying to get the word out that there are three convention bureaus in Northwest Indiana.”
— The Gary/Chicago International Airport “is the most financial asset to Northwest Indiana,” Batistatos said, applauding recent legislation to re-seat the airport’s board.
“I hope the new board comes in with vigor and focus, and realizes the huge public asset they’ve been given and cleans it up,” he said. “I hope they get their act together and become the region engine they can be.”
— The Gary Air Show is not coming back after it was canceled this year because sequestration grounded the military planes that had made the show such a hit.
Privately funding the show would take $450,000, Batistatos said, adding that in the seven years the show was in Gary, there wasn’t a single arrest.