As head of the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau, I agree with your May 6 editorial calling for regional cooperation on tourism efforts. There’s already a viable seven-county organization, the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, that promotes tourism in our region. Speros Batistatos and the Lake County CVB want no part of this group.
The problem is, if Speros can’t control the sandbox, he doesn’t want to play in it. He has no interest in real regional cooperation, but only wants to acquire or merge the LaPorte and Porter County visitor bureaus into a larger entity he can control.
Our most recent conflict comes over his failed efforts in this just-concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly to change the law to permit him to legally invest tourism dollars outside of Lake County. Even though the current statute is clear, he’s drawn objection from others like myself because there are unfunded events in his own county that deserve tourism dollars that don’t get a dime from the Lake County CVB.
In the meantime, he wants to be able to try to “buy off” support of certain elected officials in Porter and LaPorte counties by investing in certain tourism events here.
If I’m a Lake County taxpayer, I’d be furious that dollars that are meant for Lake County events are being spent elsewhere.
A good example of a tremendous tourist event that doesn’t get a dime in Lake County CVB money is the Pierogi Fest, which draws a quarter million visitors annually and just won your newspaper’s Best of the Region - Best Festival Award for the sixth straight year. It’s the only festival in Northwest Indiana that has live broadcasts on Chicago TV and is featured on venues like the Food Channel and Travel Channel.
Bet your editors didn’t know that this wonderful festival isn’t receiving a dime in promotional funds from the Lake County CVB, while Speros tries to play political games by using Lake County CVB dollars and investing them in other counties. Worse yet, there’s no authority in state law for him to invest those dollars in our counties.
If he’s truly interested in regional cooperation, then once again, I extend the offer for the Lake County CVB to talk with us about working in cooperation with the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission or our state organization, AICVB. He is not a member of either group.
Let’s recognize that the Legislature empowered various counties to establish and run their own convention and visitors bureaus to help promote tourism in each of these counties. That process has worked well and brought tourists and millions of tourist dollars to our region.
It’s time for Bastistos to support all Lake County tourism events, whether they are run by his friends or not, and join in a true regional cooperative effort. No, he won’t be running the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, but if it’s real cooperation he wants, we’re ready to do just that.