Visit Fort Wayne lays out focus

Turnstone, genealogy seen as opportunities for growth

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Conventions, sporting events and genealogy will receive extra focus in 2018, Visit Fort Wayne President and CEO Dan O'Connell told the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board on Thursday.

O'Connell outlined Visit Fort Wayne's 2018 budget for the board. The organization's overall budget came in around $2.04 million.

Placing extra emphasis on those aspects of the community could boost area tourism by 2.5 percent, O'Connell said while presenting his organization's 2018 budget to the board. Additionally, O'Connell said he plans to ask state lawmakers to increase the hotel tax next year.

To help promote the city as a destination for sports, Fort Wayne will host a 400-athlete national adaptive sports event next year for athletes with disabilities. That event will be hosted by Carroll and Homestead high schools and the Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities.

“In 2018, our numbers are looking like we'll have 110,000 people visit Fort Wayne to participate or watch their kids participate in youth sports activities, all across the board,” O'Connell said.

About 65,000 people a year visit the genealogy section at the downtown Allen County Public Library – a number O'Connell said he would like to see increase. The genealogy market is one that O'Connell said has sometimes been overlooked.

“What we have is a lot of word-of-mouth with them, ... but not really championing it as a destination,” O'Connell said. “We hope to ratchet that up next year because we're adding a staff person who will be specifically marketing the genealogy library and Turnstone; ... really focusing on those niche markets that are a strength for us, so we can drive up those attendance numbers.”

O'Connell said the goal should be 100,000 library visitors a year.

At the same time, use of Fort Wayne's hotels is strong, having reached 77 percent occupancy in August and September. Revenue generated by the hotel tax goes to fund Grand Wayne Center and Visit Fort Wayne.

About 47 travel writers descended on Fort Wayne this year, O'Connell said, most of whom wrote positive stories about their experience.

“They're very impressed with Fort Wayne as a destination,” O'Connell said. “Sometimes residents, we don't see that. We see all the warts and ills of our community and deal with the issues.

“But our visitors see it as a very clean, safe destination, family-oriented, fun and pretty dynamic in some of the music offerings we have in our community.”

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