The Indiana Welcome Center, the tourist information center and gallery just off the Borman Expressway in Hammond that greets visitors to the Hoosier state, is closing for a deep clean to fight the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to the high traffic of visitors, the Indiana Welcome Center will be closed to do deep cleaning and disinfecting for the safety of our staff and future visitors," South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Erika Dahl said.
The Indiana Welcome Center at 7770 Corinne Drive in Hammond will be closed "until further notice," Dahl said.
The South Shore CVA has posted a temporary closure notice to its website apologizing for any inconvenience.
Popular with visitors and locals alike, the Indiana Welcome Center includes a gift shop, a wealth of free travel brochures and the W. F. Wellman Exhibit Hall that has been exhibiting the "Cruisin' Through The Times" exhibit featuring "a colorful display of antique and classic cars, each paired with The Times’ Region headlines from the year the car was manufactured."
The exhibit includes vintage vehicles like a 1923 Model T to classics, 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle, and one of only 225 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes ever made. It's supposed to run through April 29, but it's not yet known if the exhibit will be extended as a result.
Between 350,000 and 400,000 people visit a year, and more than exhibits are on display, South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos said.
"The Cruisin' exhibit is very popular," he said. "Hundreds of people are coming in every day. But we have to look after the health of our employees and make them a priority. They're the number one asset and one thing no other CVB can match."
Batistatos said the temporary closure decision was made because of the speed with which the numbers of the infected had started to grow and the sheer volume of people from all over who pass through the visitors center.
"They're traveling to Chicago or coming out of Chicago or from all over the map," he said. "We felt it was best to do our fair share to stop this from spreading. We don't want the virus entering Northwest Indiana from our welcome center."
The SSCVA will continue to serve visitors through its website and phone apps. In addition to the deep clean, staff will work on projects that they normally wouldn't have time to do, such as doing inventories.
"We don't expect the closure to be very long but this is unfolding minute by minute," Batistatos said. "I glance at my phone and see MLB cancelled everything. We will reopened as soon as is practicable. We're not in the business of being closed. We're in the business of being open. But the best thing for now is to ensure everyone's safety and avoid risk."
For more information or updates, call 219-989-7979 or visit www.southshorecva.com.