Who’s Coming to Town? • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Who’s Coming to Town?

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Meetings and conventions in Northern Indiana in 2015.

by Shari Held

2015 is shaping up to be a banner year for the tourism and event industry and Northwest Indiana is reaping its fair share of the business.

“Naturally we are thrilled to see an upturn in the tourism and event industry,” says Carolyne Wallace, director of sales, Visit South Bend Mishawaka. “Encouraged by the significant overall visitor increase in the South Bend Mishawaka area, Visit South Bend Mishawaka's sales team not only has been able to double its trade show schedule for 2015, but sponsor partners to travel with us as well.”

AMERICA’S YOUTH ON PARADE Baton twirling competition comes to the South Bend area.
competition comes to the South Bend area.

Here's a snapshot look at some of the events, especially those first-time-to-the-area ones.

2014 was a great year for area meetings and conventions for “The Summit City.” But that didn't stop Visit Fort Wayne for setting its cap on making 2015 even better and concentrating on booking meetings that were new to the area. The strategy paid off.

“We helped attract 15 new meetings so far in 2015,” says John Felts, marketing and communications specialist for Visit Fort Wayne. “We are very excited about that.” Here's a look at some of the first-time events to the Fort Wayne area in 2015.

The NUWAY Championships (January 9-11) will bring approximately 9,000 to 10,000 people to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne's largest sports facility with 13,000 square feet of arena and expo space. High school and collegiate wrestlers will compete at the event, which is sponsored by the National United Wrestling Association. Hotel Fort Wayne is the site of the 2015 Regional Training Seminar of the International Conference of Police Chaplains (March 8-11). Two hundred people are anticipated to attend. About 750 people from the U.S. and Canada are expected to attend the 2015 Annual North American Brass Band Association Championship Contest (NABBA) (March 13-15). This brass band contest will take place at Fort Wayne Historic Embassy Theatre. The Grand Wayne Convention Center will host the 2015 Church of Christ Women's Conference (September 11-13). Attendance is anticipated to be around 300. And finally, the Eastern Great Lakes Regional Figure Skating Championships (October 17-20), presented by U.S. Figure Skating, will take place at Fort Wayne's Parkview SportONE Ice House. This is the regional qualifying event in preparation for the 2016 championships.

Illinois YMCA Youth Swimming (March 20-22) is being hosted at the new Lake Central High School Aquatics Center in St. John — giving Illinois-based Fox Valley YMCA a neutral site for its championships. This first-time event for Lake County is anticipated to attract 1,200 attendees for an estimated 450 room nights and an economic impact of $112,500. The African American Travel Conference (April 14-16), another first-time event for the area, will be held at the Radisson Hotel, Merrillville. This conference brings 100-plus group tour buyers to the area, allowing the South Shore CVA to showcase area hotels, restaurants and attractions. Site tours are planned throughout Northwest Indiana, including Majestic Star Casino and Fair Oaks Farms. Four hundred room nights are expected to be booked with an initial economic impact of $100,000 and the potential to book future business — 81 percent of AATC buyers return with a group to host cities.

Merrillville's Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre will host the Salvation Army Annual Conference (June 12-13). The conference has been held here for more than 25 years and attendees refer to Northwest Indiana as their home! An anticipated 1,200 room nights will be needed to accommodate the 3,000 attendees, and the economic impact will total $300,000. The Professional Bowlers Seniors and Doubles Championships (August 6-8), sponsored by the Professional Bowlers Association, will be held at Olympia Lanes in Hammond. The South Shore has hosted a PBA event since 1999. Each year the event features a pro-am night where amateurs can bowl with professionals. Proceeds go to a local charity. This year's event will include a doubles component for the first time. The economic impact is expected to be $87,500 with 350 room nights anticipated to accommodate the 220 attendees.

Michigan City's Stardust Event Center at the Blue Chip Hotel Casino & Spa will host International Harvester Collectors Chapter #33 for the second consecutive year with 300 anticipated attendees. City Lanes and Lakeshore Lanes in Michigan City will host the 88th Annual Indiana State Women's Championship Bowling Tournament (every weekend March 27-May 10) for an estimated economic impact of $750,000 and 2,400 room nights sold. Returning for the fourth consecutive year, the Eby-Brown Expo (April 22-24), hosted at the Stardust Event Center for the fourth consecutive year, will bring an anticipated 1,200 attendees to the area.

GREAT LAKES GRAND PRIX Bringing many of the world’s fastest offshore powerboats to LaPorte County.
GREAT LAKES GRAND PRIX Bringing many of the world’s fastest offshore powerboats to LaPorte County.

LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau will sponsor the 3rd Annual CoHo Derby (April 25-May 31) on Lake Michigan at Michigan City. This five-week free fishing tournament, with a total purse of $2,000, pays $100 per week to each person weighing in the heaviest salmon and the heaviest trout. Weekly winners in each class automatically qualify for the $500 Big Fish Award. May 29-31 the LCCVB will sponsor the 3rd Annual Maple City Grand Prix at Stone Lake in LaPorte. The event features fireworks, flyovers, “Meet the Racers” events and a downtown parade. Estimated economic impact is $1 million. The Great Lakes Grand Prix (July 29-August 2), also hosted by the LCCVB, features many of the world's fastest and most powerful offshore powerboats, reaching speeds nearing 150 mph. The event features a downtown parade, block party, VIP parties, a car show and more. Estimated economic impact is a whopping $8 million.

New to the area in 2015 are the World Massage Festival Annual Convention (July 12-15) and the Association of Indiana Counties Annual Convention (September 20-24). Both will be hosted at the Stardust Event Center, and each is expected to bring in 1,000 attendees.

In 2014, 6.3 million people visited Porter County, and the No. 1 attraction remained the Indiana Dunes. The 3 million visitors Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore draw to the area help the travel and tourism industry contribute $368 million to Porter County's economy each year. Here's a look at some popular events taking place in 2015.

Lutheran Middle School National Basketball Championships (March 19-22), sponsored by the Lutheran Basketball Association of America, will be held at the Athletic and Recreation Center at Valparaiso, the 33rd year it has been hosted along the South Shore. According to the South Shore CVA, this national tournament brings teams to South Shore from all over the nation, and attracts one of the most diverse cross-sections of visitors to the South Shore annually. The anticipated 960 coaches/players and 1,800 family members are expected to book 2,500 room nights and have an economic impact of $700,000.

The 30th Annual Jazz Fest (April 6-11), hosted at Valparaiso University's Harre Union, is the Midwest's largest non-competitive jazz event. The Valpo Brewfest (September), in downtown Valparaiso, celebrates craft beer and the people who enjoy it. It boasts more craft beers than any festival in Northwest Indiana as well as music and great food. Attendees can vote for their favorite, and the participant with the most votes wins the Hoosier Brew award. The 37th Valparaiso Popcorn Festival (September 12) is an annual family-friendly event featuring arts and crafts, great food, the five-mile Popcorn Panic and the nation's first Popcorn Parade. It typically draws 55,000 people to downtown Valparaiso each year. Elvis fans won't want to miss the Elvis FANtasy Fest (October 2-4). Held in Portage each year, it draws more people to Porter County than any other festival, filling more than 250 hotel rooms. This year it will feature a Jukebox LIVE show on Friday night and an All-Elvis show on Saturday.

“We are so blessed in the South Bend Mishawaka area to be home to such excellent meeting and sports facilities,” says Wallace. “With two convention districts featuring three conference centers, plus an extensive selection of facilities to accommodate all types of sports.” That's resulted in a host of new events coming to St. Joseph County in 2015.

The Century Center and Double Tree by Hilton South Bend are hosting two new events — Sigma Phi Gamma Sorority's International Convention (June 23-29) and the Group Travel Family's Going on Faith Conference (August 2-6). The economic impact of 300 Sigma Phi Gammas is estimated to be 820 room nights and $585,000. The 300 Group Travel planners/buyers are estimated to need 400 room nights and bring in $300,000 initially, but the long-term impact of bringing buyers to experience the area firsthand is priceless. “We are proud that we are partnering with four neighboring convention and visitors bureaus — Elkhart, Marshall, Kosciusko and LaGrange Counties — to co-sponsor and co-host the event,” Wallace says. “Together we promote the entire Northern Indiana region as a fantastic group tour destination.”

The University of Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena will also host two new events this year. The 40th Tri State Synchronized Skating Championship (February 6-8), sponsored by the Notre Dame Figure Skating Club, will bring in approximately 2,000 people, for an estimated 300 room nights, $96,655 in direct sales and $160,876 total economic impact. The NCAA Men's Hockey Regional (March 25-30), dubbed the “Road to the Frozen Four,” is a much-anticipated new event.

Other new events include USA Gymnastics Level 8 Regionals (April 23-26), which is anticipated to draw 1,000 attendees to the Indiana University South Bend Student Activity Center for an estimated 600 room nights, $193,680 in direct sales and a $322,255 total impact. The ISC World Tournament (August 8-15) will be held at Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend, bringing in approximately 1,100 attendees for 3,000 room nights, $311,494 in direct sales and a total economic impact of $515,952. This tournament showcases the best pitchers and players from North America and seven other countries.

Returning to the area in 2015 are the Society of Women Engineer's Region H Conference (March 6-8) and the National Baton Twirling Association's America's Youth on Parade (July dates TBD). 2015 marks the 46th consecutive year for America's Youth on Parade, which appeals to multiple generations. Admission is free for all events, including pom-poms, flag, dance, and drum corps by participants from age 3 through collegiate. Five thousand participants, coaches and family members are expected to attend, needing 4,500 room nights for an economic impact of approximately $3 million.


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