MERRILLVILLE | Nowhere in Northwest Indiana has as much conference space as the Radisson at Star Plaza, which will be closed and razed in January.
The landmark hotel at U.S. 30 and Interstate 65 was a gathering place where conventioneers mingled, U.S. Senators addressed packed ballrooms, and just-wedded couples celebrated with friends and family.
White Lodging is slimming conference facilities down from 30,000 square feet at the Radisson to about 12,000 square feet in a new upscale hotel slated to open in 2018, which would limit its ability to host out-of-towners at conventions and conferences.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority estimates it will mean a $20 million hit on the Northwest Indiana economy next year. The Region will lose out of 83,000 room nights by visitors who spend an average of $250 a day, SSCVA Director of Communications Erika Dahl said.
That includes a loss of at least $2.7 million from about 11,000 hotel room bookings from 90 groups or events that had to cancel next year.
"That's not including any groups we could have scheduled in the next year or two," she said. "The economic impact of just room revenue lost is more than $10 million. That doesn't take into account additional spending in the economy at nearby attractions, restaurants, gas stations, shopping centers, etc."
The SSCVA estimates visitors spend about $478.3 in Lake County every year, so the Radisson at Star Plaza alone accounts for more than 4 percent of annual tourist spending – a sizable chuck for a single hotel.
Some of the revenue could be lost forever since groups may find new venues for their meetings and never return to Northwest Indiana, Dahl said. The USW Health and Safety Conference for instance was slated to come back to Merrillville in 2018, but now has to go elsewhere.
"Should we never get Group A, B and C to return to Lake County, because we cannot accommodate them, revenues go away forever," she said. "If Group A was expecting 100 room nights in one year the estimated economic impact is $25,000 lost for our economy - for that group in one year."
The Radisson at Star Plaza for instance hosted the Kappa Delta Phi National Convention, the Midwest Latin American District Council, the Indiana Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management, the Ramencon Anime Convention, the Midwest Clown Association, the Indiana CPA Society, the ATA Black Belt Academy Regional Conference, Economic Club of Indiana, the Association of Christian Schools and the American Cue Sports Alliance.
Big conferences like the Salvation Army and Bulldog Club of America had more than 1,000 room nights each. And the FantastiCon Comic Con drew 4,000 attendees, and the National Women's Conference brought in 9,000 visitors.
Visitors pump money into Northwest Indiana's economy, and support more than 15,000 jobs in Lake County alone, SSCVA President and Chief Executive Officer Speros Batistatos said.
"We want visitors' money because we don't have to educate their kids. We don't have to plow their streets. We don't have to pick up their garbage. We don't have to fix their roads," he said. "When a visitor comes here and spends money, it is pure profit. That's why we have a convention bureau. That's why we spend that ad money in other places, so we can bring home that profit to Northwest Indiana."