Region’s hospitality industry needs a convention center, agency says
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent January 10, 2013 6:48PM
Updated: February 12, 2013 2:34PM
MERRILLVILLE — Last year was a banner year for the Northwest Indiana hospitality industry with more than 30,000 room nights booked and creating an estimated economic impact of more than $5 million.
The figures, provided by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority during the 2013 partnership summit, highlight what the region is capable of and puts a spotlight on the opportunities that will be missed without a major brick-and-mortar investment in the hospitality sector.
Bookings are expected to plunge in 2013, due in part to the loss of some larger events such as the Salvation Army convention, which needs a venue large enough to accommodate 4,000 attendees. A little more than 12,400 room nights are expected to be booked in 2013 creating an estimated economic impact of just over $3.1 million.
Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the region has had much success in recent years through the booking of sporting events such as the National Softball Association Girls Fast-Pitch Class B World Series and through the bring-it-back promotion encouraging members to bring their annual association meetings back to the South Shore.
However, sustained growth of the hospitality sector by attracting larger conventions will not be possible until the region has the proper venue to support those groups.
“I am the eternal optimist. We can build a convention center. … If we want to change at the local level, we have to bite the bullet and pay a food and beverage tax,” he said.
Batistatos said a convention center is a vital component to the continued success and expansion of the hospitality sector. Hotels, restaurants, retail centers and ancillary businesses would all see an increase in business if the region were able to consistently attract larger conventions and expositions.
In the coming weeks Batistatos said he plans to present a comprehensive package outlining the need for a 3 percent food and beverage tax and how the tax can be used to spur economic development in the hospitality sector throughout Lake County.
“We are going to be raising some interesting and controversial ideas in the next few weeks,” he said.
The plan, which will leverage the anticipated $21 million in revenues for a $210 million, 10-year bond issue, will include brick-and-mortar projects throughout the seven districts of Lake County designed to attract visitors, including a proposed convention center.
He said the SSCVA also will work to protect the existing hotel and motel tax, and any potential food and beverage tax, so it is used to spur economic development in the hospital sector and not raided by cash-strapped municipalities to fill budget shortfalls.
Rohit Patel, who owns three limited-service hotels in Northwest Indiana — the Best Western and Comfort Inn in Hammond and the Best Western University Inn in Valparaiso, the latter two of which are under renovation — and one in Lansing, Ill., said the region needs a “demand generator” that would create a steady flow of business to the region’s hotels and restaurants throughout the year.
Patel said while he and Batistatos may not always agree, he shares the SSCVA chief’s view regarding the convention center.
“One-hundred percent we agree on funding a convention center,” said Patel, who also owns a restaurant, adding he would support the food and beverage tax if it would bring the convention center to fruition.