The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

County firmly established itself as a tourist destination in '10

By Lisa Allen
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The 18-day Colts training camp at Anderson University drew 80,000 people, and Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, now in its third full year, racked up 3 million visits.

“The tourism industry is slowly coming back in Madison County,“ said Ralph Day, executive director of the Anderson/Madison County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

He attributes much of that success to Hoosier Park.

“Hoosier Park does a lot of advertising,” Day said. “It is what created Anderson as a destination. The casino is really what pushed the numbers up.”

For example, New Year’s Eve weekend at the casino attracted 10,000 people, Day said.

Jim Brown, general manager of gaming, said 2010 met expectations.

“2010 was a growth year,” Brown said. “Our impact on tourism and the local economy continues to grow.” he said. “We are looking forward to learning from 2010” to make 2011 even more enjoyable for guests.

The casino also garnered some good press. The Indianapolis Business Journal deemed Hoosier Park the No. 1 tourism draw in the state. National and regional casino magazines doled out many “best of” awards to Hoosier Park and declared it has the “loosest slots in Indiana.”

“We believe in providing our guests the best entertainment experience and many of them are here for gaming,” Brown said. Paying out adds to that, he said. “It’s by design.”

Brown said the fact that parent company Centaur filed for bankruptcy in 2010 had no effect on the track or casino. “It was a corporate debt restructuring,” he said.

The casino proceeded with all its plans for improvements, staffing levels and headliner entertainment, Brown said.

Another bright spot in 2010 was the Colts training camp. The casino had the highest number of people sign up for membership cards that week. “It exposed us to a lot of new visitors,” he said.

Brown says the community is making progress in making up for its departed manufacturing base.

“Anderson and Madison County have been working hard to redefine themselves.”

Even businesses more oriented to residents saw a glimmer of hope in 2010.

Officials at Garfield’s at the Mounds Mall said business in 2010 “actually started to grow a little bit more,” said assistant general manager Melvin McCloud. “We’re looking forward to it being better this year. The economy is getting better, people are getting out more.”

Another measure of tourism activity is hotel stays, Day said. The occupancy rate for the visitor bureau’s bellwether hotels was 47 percent in 2009, but tipped into positive territory in 2010 with a 52 percent rate. And that’s with more hotel rooms. Holiday Inn Express opened in 2009 with 90 more rooms.

Another virtually all-new hotel will arrive in 2011.

In March, the Anderson Hotel, previously Lee’s Inn, will become a Best Western Plus. Work to gut and rebuild the 67-room hotel began in September, said owner and general manager Saumin Shah.

Day predicts tourism will continue to grow in 2011, as long as gasoline prices don’t skyrocket. Otherwise, “families still want to do things and get out,” Day said.