LAPORTE | LaPorte County could be positioning itself for a legal fight with Lake County in a brewing turf war over tourism.
The LaPorte County commissioners on Wednesday voted to have a legal opinion drafted on what state law says about tourism bureaus crossing over into other counties.
Jack Arnett, executive director of the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said tourism officials in Lake County are interfering in LaPorte County to the point that it's generated confusion over whom to contact for tasks like scheduling and promoting upcoming local events.
"It's gotten to the point now that it's very confusing," Arnett said.
He said it's his opinion that current legislation does not allow "any of us in the industry to go outside the county."
He alleged the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is trying to take over.
Speros Batistatos, president and chief executive officer of the SSC&VA, said he will not back down by any legal opinion and welcomes any court fight that might arise.
He said his organization already covers Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties.
And, by nature, Batistatos said tourism is a regional industry where people attending a concert or major sporting event in Chicago, for example, might want to do other things like eat in restaurants and stay in hotels in Northwest Indiana and even Wisconsin.
Historically, he has outspokenly questioned the need to have separate tourism bureaus in each county.
The key in the tourism industry is promoting what communities away from the major attractions offer in areas like dining, recreation and lodging so everyone in a region benefits, including the guests, he said.
But, in LaPorte County, Batistatos said his efforts to promote attractions in Lake County by doing things like placing brochures in hotels in the Michigan City and LaPorte area meet resistance.
"We should all be in the same boat, rowing in the same direction," Batistatos said.
Arnett said the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, despite its name giving off a regional image, does not officially have jurisdiction outside Lake County.
"For him to just give himself a name and say he covers a territory that's nice to say, but there are rules that govern how we operate and that's what we need to abide by," said Arnett, who also heads up the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, which includes LaPorte, Porter, St. Joseph, Marshall, Elkhart, Kosciusko and LaGrange counties.
That organization is dedicated to promoting tourism in those counties along the Indiana Toll Road.
Arnett said a regional approach to tourism is good through cooperating, but there are no laws that allow for other counties to come in and interfere.
LaPorte County attorney Shaw Friedman agreed with Arnett's interpretation of the law.
"The statute would seem to indicate that their expenditure of dollars should be within Lake County as opposed to coming into other counties," Friedman said.