The August meeting of the Crossroads Chamber of Commerce occurred just one week after White Lodging Services Corporation announced it would be closing the Radisson Star Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre at the beginning of 2017. Guest Speaker Speros Batistatos, the CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitor's Authority, spoke about the impact this closure will have and what we as a community need to do to turn a tragedy into an opportunity.
“Tourism,” said Crossroads President Sue Reed, “Is a huge economic benefit for the area. It can bring hundreds of people out for the weekend. They go to our restaurants, shop at our malls. Then they leave. Our infrastructure does not need to worry about supporting them.”
Without the Radisson, our region loses 330 rooms for thousands of potential tourists. The Radisson will be rebuilt in 2018 but the new version will have only 215 suites. Its campus will not include another iconic convention center like the Star Plaza.
Batistatos shared his greatest concern of the closing was the sudden lack of a convention center. Batistatos said, “We have not got the kind of investment in the hospitality industry that our community deserves… so we are at this fork in the road. What are we going to do?
“It's time for public investment.”
His plan required a food and beverage tax of 3% to pay for a convention center of public and private partnership creation. It demanded the Chamber take action instead of letting its economy grow stagnant.
A convention center is an investment in the whole region. The effects of tourism cannot be underestimated nor monopolized. We are competing with other regions all over the state for the business that Chicago and Indianapolis forced out.
“We cannot get sucked into a zip code war…” said Batistatos. “Not one of us spends money only in their city or town. Nobody… We are borderless. [We cannot] allow any one municipality, as they have historically in this town, to have a veto: If you're not gonna build it here, I'm going to stand up and fight you. Look what 40 years of that has done.”
Chris Mahlmann, part of the Crossroads Chamber Board and owner of Ideas in Motion Media, is an advocate of Baristatos and his aggressive strategies. “Today's event is about the importance of the relationship between tourism and business for growing a healthy region. Sue and Speros and their organizations completely understand the importance of tourism as an economic driver within the region and how much the business community can be involved.”
Even local health institutions are affected by tourism. “Tourism would bring foot traffic in [Journey Senior Living’s] doors as well as bring awareness about our community,” said their representative Noelle Peters. The August gathering was her first meeting as an official member, and she was already making important contacts with the Merrillville Kiwanis. “We are dementia and Alzheimer's specific so that us important information to get out. We want people to know that if they have a loved one, it is okay to let them reside somewhere other than the home.”
Many things affect the business industry that we often are not aware of. A convention center will expose our region to a wider audience. If we want to grow, we must all be proactive.