Batistatos revs up engines for air show, convention center

2014-02-14T16:00:00Z 2014-02-14T18:52:26Z Batistatos revs up engines for air show, convention centerBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

SCHERERVILLE | South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Speros Batistatos offered a strong defense of moving the South Shore Air Show to Fair Oaks Farms before the Lake County Advancement Committee on Friday.

"We will either be geniuses or idiots. But I'm betting on the first one," Batistatos said to more than 60 people at the committee's monthly meeting at Teibel's Restaurant.

The ability to levy a charge on virtually everyone who attends via a parking fee at Fair Oaks Farms may help stem the $200,000 annual loss on the show, while still benefiting Northwest Indiana's tourism industry, Batistatos said.

Hosting the show at Fair Oaks Farms also holds the potential of attracting major corporate sponsorships, since many of the nation's largest food, agricultural and equipment manufacturers do business with Fair Oaks Farms, he said.

The decision to move the air show from Gary's lakefront to agritourism center in Newton County has been a controversial one, with a number of Lake County politicians hammering Batistatos for the move. Most aircraft in the show will remain based at Gary/Chicago International Airport.

Batistatos used most of his allotted time as keynote speaker Friday to answer questions from the audience, with the air show responses sparked by a question from former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez.

The South Shore tourism chief used the air show as just one example of how "ZIP code wars" between communities clamoring for their piece of the pie have held back progress in the region. He said the same kind of infighting killed a drive in the early 1990s to site a sports arena in Northwest Indiana hosting top tier minor league sports franchises.

This will be the year the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority launches in earnest a drive for a convention center here, Batistatos said. The drive will start with the authority's board of directors authorizing an economic impact study and analysis of the financials for the project, Batistatos said.

The tourism authority has long advocated using a food and beverage tax to fund a convention center that could include an arena. The idea up until now has met with a cold shoulder from the Lake County Council and Commission.

Kathy DeGuilio-Fox, Director of the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana, asked Batistatos what he thought of the state's new tourism slogan of "Honest-to-Goodness Indiana," which was unveiled this week by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

"Ugh," was Batistatos first response. He then noted what a great job Office of Tourism Development Director Mark Newman does with a measly budget of $1 million. Batistatos admitted he was fond of the previous slogan of "Restart Your Engines."

He said the new slogan appears to be an attempt to capitalize on Indiana residents' reputation for friendliness and genuineness, while reinforcing the state's emphasis on family values.

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