Goal of Dunes visitor center revamp: More visitors
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent February 26, 2014 1:14PM
For more on what Indiana Dunes Tourism has to offer, go to www.indianadunes.com.
Updated: March 28, 2014 6:49AM
PORTER — Efforts are underway to give the Indiana Dunes Tourism Visitor Center a new look inside and out, with interactive exhibits and other features officials hope will make the center a destination unto itself.
The Porter County Board of Commissioners, who own the building and the land at 1215 N. Indiana 49, agreed on Feb. 18 to kick in $10,000 toward planning a facility revamp.
“It’s going to be totally different than what you see here today,” said Lorelei Weimer, Indiana Dunes Tourism’s executive director.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which shares the building with the county’s tourism agency, is putting up another $10,000, and an additional $10,000 is coming from an as-yet-unnamed source, she said.
The first phase, completed in the fall, involved discussion between the tourism bureau, the national park and Indiana Dunes State Park on what to change.
“Phase two is to take these ideas and make them into basic concepts,” Weimer said; that begins next month.
The National Park Service could not get funding for exhibits before the visitor center opened six years ago, Weimer said. The exhibits at the center now were moved from the center’s old location, and haven’t changed since then.
That prompted a decision to take a holistic look at the building inside and out.
“We want exhibits that are more engaging and interactive,” Weimer said.
The goal is to realize the vision that was crafted when the tourism bureau and the national park started their partnership at the visitor center, said Sue Bennett, chief of interpretation and education for the national park and a member of the committee working on the building plan.
The center should be a place that brings people back again and again with relevant, fresh exhibits, she said.
“We want people to know they’re in a very special part of the country,” she said, while showing off the rich cultural history and natural beauty of the area.
The planning phase should take about two months. Then comes what Weimer called the heavy lifting — coming up with $1.5 million to implement the changes.
That will include seeking grants and asking foundations for money, which Weimer said would be easier once a concept for the building is in hand.
“I think once people see the level we’re wanting to take it, people will get pretty excited about it,” she said, adding the center saw 73,500 visitors in 2013.