The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority (aka Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau) announced the annual Gary Air Show would be relocated from Lake County, where it has been for the last 10 years, to a private business in Newton County — Fair Oaks Farms.
According to the agency, the annual show in Gary was discontinued for a number of reasons, the exorbitant cost of the show on the city of Gary and the South Shore CVA being among them.
The air show was reported to cost more than $400,000 annually, taking funds that would otherwise be available for other festivals and events around Lake County.
On my weekly radio show and in a Times article, I remarked that I didn't agree with the decision of the South Shore CVA to use that money to promote an air show, at a private business, in another county. Using Lake County’s hotel/motel tax at a private Newton County business is unwise.
Not only is the South Shore CVA’s director, Speros Batistatos, setting a precedent by sending Lake County money down I-65 to Newton County, this move also will mean less money to other festivals around Lake County, like Whiting’s excellent “Pierogi Fest,” which has never received a single penny from the South Shore CVA, despite drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Whiting every year for more than a decade.
After the initial article, The Times Editorial Board chimed in, saying I was off mark in my critique of the new location. The editorial justified the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of Lake County’s “hotel/motel” tax to be shipped to Newton County for the air show.
The Editorial Board felt strongly about the fact that since tourists were the ones paying this tax in Lake County’s hotels and motels, there should be no restrictions on where South Shore CVA decides to spend the money. Quite frankly, using this logic, Speros would have no geographical restrictions whatsoever on how he uses the money generated from Lake County’s hotel/motel tax. He could literally spend it in Indianapolis if he chose to.
No one has yet discussed the financial benefit to a private business — Fair Oaks Farms. How much profit will Fair Oaks Farms reap using Lake County taxpayers' money as a seed for their event?
What are the terms of the “business deal” struck between Fair Oaks Farms and the South Shore CVA? How much will be charged? Will there be transportation from Lake County to the event for people that can’t make it down to Newton County on their own? If so, how much will that cost Lake County residents?
There are many issues that haven’t been discussed and many questions unanswered, yet the editorial has quickly endorsed moving one of the most popular festivals in Lake County to Newton County.
The legality of this move is still in question. Does the law allow visitor bureaus to simply spend money wherever they pleases? If it does, I suggest the Legislature take a long, hard look on how this could be allowed to happen.
Instead of knee-jerk reactions, more careful analysis needs to be done on how much money will drain from Lake County at the expense of other great festivals.