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Leaders discuss building a new convention center

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is weighing into discussions about building a new convention center in Lake County.

With the announcement of the closing of the Star Plaza in Merrillville along with the Radisson Hotel, Lake County is in danger of losing a considerable share of the convention and tourism market.

According to Mayor Freeman-Wilson, the convention center should be located along the 80/94 corridors.

In making her argument, Freeman-Wilson pointed out that Gary, which is next to the interstate, has a wealth of amenities.

“Gary is one of the largest cities of commerce. Gary has the Airport, the Lakefront and we have three first class rail lines. Gary arguably is at the center of commerce, said Freeman-Wilson.

The mayor also noted that the city has been working in a cooperative way with other cities, “We have been working in a coordinated way with cities thoughout the county and with the federal government.”

While the mayor supports the convention center being located in Gary, she said she is not advocating that it be in downtown Gary.

“Not saying that it should be downtown because if it is to be a regional conference center, I think that there is a good argument that it shouldn’t be downtown. It should be along the 80/94 corridors,” Freeman-Wilson said.

Freeman-Wilson said she plans to make sure Gary is part of the discussion as to where the next convention center is built. South Shore Convention and Visitors Association president and CEO Speros Batistatos has been leading the charge to get a convention center built. As part of his campaign, Batistatos has been advocating the county adopt a food and beverage tax.

Sounding the alarm, he said that the region stands to loose a significant amount of convention business if a new facility isn’t constructed in Lake County. He predicted that the region will loose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent by conventioneers.

The Genesis Convention Center, which opened in 1982, could be an alternative venue for concerts and new conventions, but the facility is in dire need of significant renovations that may prove to costly to make.

Last month, Merrillville-based White Lodging Services Corp, announced it will close the Star Plaza in May 2017. The company will also close the adjacent Radisson Hotel in January. Both buildings are outdated and would be too expensive to renovate, according to White Lodging officials.

The Lake County Council approved a resolution for the Regiolal Development Authority to do a study on the feasibly of a new convention center. In an address to members in the convention industry, Batistatos said the construction of the convention center would have a major economic impact on the region with construction jobs for residents in Gary and Hammond and East Chicago.


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