Gary trying to get word out about Marquette Park Pavilion’s possibilities
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent March 15, 2013 12:52PM
Dennis Nowak of Highland and his daughter Candace Nowak of Munster sit for a snack (lower, center) during the grand opening showcasing the renovations at the Marquette Park Pavilion in Gary, Ind. Thursday December 13, 2012. Nowak worked at the pavilion when he was young, from dishes to bartending and more, when his uncle Edward Nowak ran the pavilion years ago. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:34AM
GARY — A great view. A newly remodeled building. Competitive prices.
Gary parks and recreation department officials recently said they have the ingredients for a great venue in the Marquette Park Pavilion, but now, they have to get that message out to renters.
“It is the premier venue in Northwest Indiana, the most scenic venue in all of Northwest Indiana,” said park board president Dwight Gardner. “By the same token, we compete with everything from the (Hobart’s) Avalon and the Radisson and to the Greek Orthodox hall in Merrillville.”
Since reopening in July, the pavilion has already booked 40 events for the year, twice as many as were booked from July through December 2012, and every Saturday from May through October is booked, said pavilion manager LaShawn Brooks.
“If you look at the numbers, where we are now and 40 events booked already, we see growth there already,” she said.
This year’s events so far include high school proms and reunions, Gary Chamber of Commerce networking events every month, concerts and others.
As of the first week of March, the pavilion was expected to draw $90,471, well short of the 2013 revenue goal of $277,420, but already greater than the total revenue of $17,755 in 2012.
The 2013 bookings reflect parks managers’ attempts to diversify and book at least two events a week, said Parks and Recreation Superintendent Lori Latham.
Located in the massive Marquette Park, the pavilion received about $6 million of the $28.4 million rehabilitation of the park, paid for by a grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Built in 1923, the building was renovated in 1980, but, since then, the building fell into disrepair. With the RDA grant, former Gary planning director Christopher Myers led the charge to return the building to its former glory, as envisioned by architect George Washington Maher.
The pavilion now sports earthy hues, iron grillwork, a new large and small kitchen, formal lounge and even windows custom-made to match the originals.
The RDA was as much curse as blessing, at least temporarily.
The renovation closed the building, once an immensely popular spot for weddings and proms, for nearly two years until last summer. Parks officials erected a large, outdoor tent to house events, but that drew little interest, said Lori Latham, Gary’s parks superintendent.
“How do you tell a bride, who has a wedding planned for June, that now she can’t get married here?,” Latham asked.
Like the rest of the Marquette Park Lakefront East project, there were numerous change orders and delays, and the pavilion was the site of vandalism and an attempted fire in late 2011.
The challenges now, officials agreed, include marketing the pavilion on a shoestring budget, maintaining the pavilion to reflect the RDA investment and changing the perception the pavilion is available for cheap.
“We’re investing money in the pavilion,” Gardner said. “We’ve moved money within the budget to invest in some mechanized cleaning equipment and booking a cleaning company for outside windows, and in staff training to maintain the facility.”
Latham said her team is “in a make it work mode.” They have already exhausted their advertising budget for 2013, relying on other funds in the parks department.
“We’ve done some small marketing with social media, national websites and just communicating with those in the industry, letting them know Marquette Pavilion is here,” Brooks added.
The pavilion’s rates are comparable with other Tier 1, or top-level, facilities, Latham said, and there will be more offerings, like larger scale music festivals, a Sunday brunch and weekend dinners open to the public and catered by Chicago’s Rome’s Joy, the pavilion’s exclusive caterer.
A successful year will be more than just hitting revenue numbers, Latham said.
“We want a decrease in complaints, an increase in positive customer service experiences, good maintenance,” she continued. “We want to make sure the grass is always cut, the windows always clean and the grounds always look good.”