SCHERERVILLE | Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties do as much hospitality business as Marian County, home of Indianapolis, said Speros A. Batistatos, president and CEO, South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.
Batistatos, speaking at the Lake County Advancement Committee meeting at Teibel's Restaurant Friday, said you can't manage something cohesively in three parts, and brand it better, if "your main competition is the Goliath in the room."
Batistatos was asked if the SSCVA could unilaterally serve the entire region, not just Lake County.
"We already have," he replied. "They're (neighboring county visitors bureaus) inconsequential to what we do."
Batistatos used the 2012 National Softball Association Girls Fast Pitch Class B World Series as an example, where Valparaiso will serve as the official host city with games taking place this summer in several municipalities in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties.
"We're signing up their hotels, their restaurants -- their members are writing us checks," he said. "We represent businesses in four counties today as I stand here. We're selling our vision -- here's what we do and here's what we do for you. We're working directly with businesses who believe our model is the right way to go. It's why we re-branded ourselves."
Batistatos said as Indianapolis and Chicago continue to grow, they're displacing pieces of business that would be perfect for Northwest Indiana if it had the right kind of convention facility and the right kind of sporting facilities to keep hotel rooms full.
Indianapolis, which hosted Super Bowl XLVI, built the Hoosier Dome because area officials there knew it was time for investment, Batistatos said.
After building the dome, the city's hotel inventory jumped from 800 rooms to today's total of more than 6,500. A dozen opened in the last year alone, including the JW Marriot and its 1,100 rooms, while the number of restaurants and bars in Indianapolis has doubled to 300 in the last 10 years.
"When the public sector makes the right investments the private sector comes along," Batistatos said.
Batistatos said a new vision for Northwest Indiana could include comprehensive projects like beautifying the intersection of Interstate 65 and U.S. 30.
"That's the heart of our downtown for Lake County," he said. "Think about what our intersections look like. It's not terribly attractive as it is. Why don't we spend some money thinking about how the visitor reacts to what we look like and how we can make that look different?"
Batistatos said part of the plan is within 10 years, every major intersection from the county line to Kankakee and the state line will have been beautified.
"It's probably the smallest part of investment we're looking at, but visually could be one of the most important and signaling to people that we are not who you think," he said. "We have to start changing the way we present ourselves."