Tourism chief pitches $210 million in projects, including convention center

Speros Batistatos, South Shore Convention and Visitors Association president and CEO, is pitching a convention center as a replacement for the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza and Star Plaza Theatre.

Sometimes we must swing for the fences when rare opportunities for Region transformation present themselves.

The planned razing of the iconic Radisson and Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville is one of those times.

Region officials and planners now must be discussing development possibilities — with an emphasis on the new rather than the old, tried ideas that are departing our Region for a reason.

The Lake County Council — with a push from Speros Batistatos, of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority — voted to ask for a feasibility study for a convention center.

The study would be funded by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, a government agency.

We don’t disagree with testing these waters, given a potential void created by the departure of the Radisson and its meeting spaces.

But our Region must go all-out on this endeavor.

Sound business sense indicates we should be considering multiple ideas.

Some Region leaders, including Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Tom Keon, would like the Region to explore a possible events center, rather than a convention center.

Such a facility would be used to attract entertainment assets, such as concerts and sporting events, and possibly contain a hockey rink.

The concept of an events center deserves equal consideration with any convention center proposal.

Region planners shouldn’t be leaving any potential funding mechanisms off the table, either.

Tourism officials have mentioned a possible 3 percent food and beverage tax, which would amount to 3 cents on every dollar of consumer’s Lake County restaurant bills, to fund a potential convention center.

Some folks never want to see new taxes of any kind. Others rightly want to know how any such new tax money would be spent and whether it would grow other revenue or contribute to quality of life.

That’s why it’s so important to dream big while ensuring the most feasible option ultimately is pursued.

Let’s also keep in mind even though the Radisson is closing — and being replaced with a smaller facility — new hotel projects are being built or pursued throughout the Region.

A new hotel planned for Munster’s Centennial Village, a boutique hotel proposed in Highland and two new hotels in Hammond’s Oxbow Landing are just a few of the examples.

It’s clear the Region won’t lack for quality hotel rooms.

So let’s swing for the fences and figure out what we can build on a sound business model to move our entertainment and visitors industry forward.


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.