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Terre Haute, Indiana's New $1.8 million Convention & Visitors Bureau Set to Open June 1, 2009

By Howard Greninger, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 6, 2009--Travelers along Interstate 70 soon will get a new first impression of Terre Haute when a $1.8-million Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau welcome center opens June 1.

"This will allow us to give a great first impression for all those people passing through our community. It did not cost [property] taxpayers a dime," as it is paid entirely from a local innkeepers tax, said David Patterson, executive director of the bureau.

"This will give us an additional motorcoach stop, to hopefully catch more overnights for those passing through to areas like Branson, Mo.

"It will also strengthen our position, which has been very weak in the past, on the general traveler, those just looking for a room to get them from point A to point B," Patterson said.

The new welcome center is 7,700-square-feet and will include displays from attractions such as the Terre Haute Children's Museum, Swope Art Museum, Vigo County Historical Society and Clabber Girl, the leading manufacturer of baking powder in the nation. Other displays include Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and Ivy Tech Community College.

In addition, seasonal displays will be done for events such as the Indianapolis Colts' training camp in Terre Haute, which starts Aug. 2.

The 5-cent innkeepers tax, paid when a person stays overnight, generates about $1 million a year, Patterson said. It is used to attract visitors to happenings such as NCAA cross-country events, conventions and tournaments, or to attract motorcoaches to stops such as Clabber Girl.

Terre Haute has 20 hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast facilities that collect the tax, accounting for 1,905 rooms. A new Holiday Inn Express, planned for construction near the new welcome center, will increase that room count.

About 47 percent of tourists come to Terre Haute and Vigo County for a day trip, according to a 2003 study from Certec Inc., while 22.5 percent visit on a short trip of one to three nights.

Vigo County's strongest draw among travelers is from Indiana and Illinois, with 64 percent from Indiana and 12.6 percent from Illinois, according to that study.

Tourism generated more than $36 million in 2002, with tourism-generated jobs providing more than $47.1 million in wages to Vigo County workers, according to the study.

While the new center will open along the westbound lane of Interstate 70, staffing at a state welcome center on the eastbound lane of I-70 into Vigo County will cease.

The Indiana Office of Tourism Development in January announced it would no longer reimburse counties for the operation of welcome centers. The measure was taken after the state office had its state budget cut 20 percent.

Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau has manned the Clear Creek Welcome Center on I-70 near the Indiana/Illinois border, but its five part-time workers were paid from the state. The Terre Haute agency has enough funds to maintain staff at Clear Creek until June 1. Those part-time workers then will be moved to the new Terre Haute welcome center.

Clear Creek Welcome Center will remain open, but its welcome center will no longer be staffed.

The move in staffing, to cost $7,905, was given preliminary approval Tuesday by a committee of the Vigo County Council. The committee also approved $40,000 for office furniture for the new welcome center. Both are funded from the innkeepers tax. The measures go before the full County Council at its May 26 meeting.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com

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To see more of The Tribune-Star or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tribstar.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.

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