Gary's Genesis Convention Center is poorly suited for large conventions. There's no hotel nearby, and the husk of the former Sheraton Hotel stands as a reminder of the past failure to have a hotel and the Genesis Center be symbiotic.
The Genesis Center attracted so few convention delegates that the Sheraton closed four years after the center opened, and the skywalk connecting the two was never finished.
Parking is an issue, as the recent cascading water in the adjacent parking garage, flowing from melting snow, reminds us.
The struggling Genesis Center poses a real challenge to the city of Gary, which owns it.
The 32-year-old facility fell into disuse and disrepair but is now being brought back to usability.
The center has seen some big crowds at major events over the years, but it hasn't really found its niche.
Perhaps the best use of it would be as an arena for sporting events, concerts, etc., along with business meetings.
A 200-person room can be rented for six hours for $100 any night of the week. Reserving the whole center costs up to $3,500 on a weekend.
"We're always looking for more bookings," interim director Gwen Williams said.
Gary attorney Jewell Harris Jr., who ran the Gary Steelheads team in the Continental Basketball Association from 2000 through 2008, said the public needs to be more aware of the Genesis Center. "That's what the issue was," he said. "The team had the burden of not only marketing itself, but also doing the marketing for the arena to show it's safe and well-lit."
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson also said the facility needs to be marketed.
"We can't be totally dependent on someone else to do that," she said. "We have to market it so people understand what's available to them."
The facility hosted 252 events last year, but most of these were smaller events, like business meetings, that didn't require full use of the building.
In that vein, a word of advice: Rather than serving food buffet style, have servers deliver the food to each table. It's difficult to hold a conversation at the table when someone is popping up to get dessert or a beverage or a second serving from the buffet table.
And consider privatization of this facility to reduce the temptation to subsidize it with scarce tax dollars.
It wouldn't bring a windfall to the city, but if a private operator could increase its popularity, that would be good exposure for the city.