With hotels under construction that will add hundreds of rooms in St. Joseph County by next year, tourism officials are focused on a plan that they hope will fill them, at least in part, with young athletes and their families.
The county plans to use $1.5 million in hotel-motel taxes to help attract a private developer who would build an indoor sports complex that would host travel-sports tournaments. The money could be used, for example, to help pay for infrastructure work needed to get a project site ready.
A feasibility study conducted last year by a real estate consulting firm says St. Joseph County could support a $30 million-plus complex.
The study calls for a roughly 125,000-square-foot facility with eight basketball courts, which translates to 16 volleyball courts. It also calls for courts to be encircled by a 200-meter track, but officials aren't sure whether to include that because of the cost.
After evaluating five potential sites, the firm recommended the facility be built on private land owned by Penn Farm in Granger. The site is south of the Indiana Toll Road, between Cleveland Road and Douglas Road. It would provide close access to hotels, restaurants and stores in the Mishawaka area.
Three of the other potential sites are in South Bend: at the intersection of Lafayette Boulevard and Western Avenue; the U.S. post office site at the intersection of St. Joseph Street and Western Avenue, and across from the county jail at the intersection of Sample Street and Lafayette Boulevard. The other site is in Granger at the intersection of Capital Avenue and the Indiana Toll Road.
Officials think the complex, which would also feature other sports such as pickleball and badminton, could bring up to 25,000 room nights per year to hotels. They say it would give hotels a big boost from November through March, when the number of occupied rooms tends to drop.
The St. Joseph County Hotel-Motel Tax Board, which decides what to do with the county's 6 percent hotel-motel tax charged on rooms, plans to set aside $1.5 million in its reserve fund next year toward the effort, said Steve Ellison, president of the nine-member board.
"Our hope is that it's a private facility, and this money may give us some opportunity to do some infrastructure development." Ellison said Tuesday during a meeting with members of the County Council, which will soon consider approving the tax board's 2018 budget.
To attract potential developers, tourism officials plan to put out a request for proposals this fall with details about the project, said Rob DeCleene, executive director of Visit South Bend Mishawaka, St. Joseph County's visitors bureau.