Almost any newspaper article on any topic from the past 11/2 years could focus on COVID-19.
This includes tourism in Vigo County, according to the executive director of the Terre Haute Convention and Tourism Bureau, David Patterson.
“It’s a different world and yet I would tell you that we are busy right now,” Patterson replied when asked about the impact of the pandemic here.
“We had over 1,500 runners at a [high school] cross-country skiing meet [Sept. 11]. It was our second meeting. Both were very busy.
Since this interview was conducted, Indiana State University has hosted the John McNichols Invitational Races for College Cross Country Runners on September 18 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
“We always go to great lengths and will continue to be successful in the future there,” Patterson said. “Cross-country is solid.
“Cumulatively, with all the races, this is our biggest draw. In 2019, before the pandemic, more than 50,000 people passed through these doors [for cross country meets]. Last year we were somewhat compromised because some of the races – including the high school state championships [in the fall] – limited number of fans.
Patterson explained how these events were compromised by the coronavirus.
“We earn our money, not necessarily thanks to the runners, but thanks to the people who accompany them and spend the night [in Terre Haute hotels] to watch them, ”he said. “Our funding comes from night visits. So what the pandemic did to us was terrible. We lost over $ 900,000 [in 2020] of the previous year. . . . Consumer confidence in travel and overnight stays has been compromised due to the pandemic. “
Big upcoming cross country events include the Indiana State College Championships on the morning of October 2 and the Nike Valley Twilight meet on the evening of October 2.
“We didn’t have that [Nike meet] last year, ”Patterson said. “The year before, we had 3,400 runners for that. . . . This day to come [Oct. 2], we will be operating from 7 am to midnight and you will probably see 8,000 people or more going through these doors.
On October 30, the IHSAA State Finals will dominate the Gibson course for the 18th time since 2004. On November 14, the Nike Regional will be here.
In 2022, the Gibson Course and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology will host the NCAA Division III National Championships. There will also be a Division I regional event next year.
Regarding the NCAA Division I National Championships, which have already been held there, Patterson said the next possible year that could be held on the Gibson Course again is 2025.
While cross-country isn’t in a terrible state, Patterson admits that the overall state of tourism in Terre Haute could be better.
Three years ago, Patterson envisioned how Terre Haute’s new downtown convention center and a new casino would boost the county’s economy.
“Now that we are sitting here today, we certainly still need the Convention Center. [set to open in March 2022] as a community, ”he noted. “We have about 15 trails at the moment, but we think most of them will book with us.”
Patterson said $ 30 million was spent on downtown improvements, including the convention center.
“We will see how this pandemic affects that,” he continued. “Without the pandemic, I would have told you that we would have immediately come across [with the Convention Center] and it would’ve been a hit right out of the box. As we all know, there is no set universal protocol for this, so it’s really up to individual groups to decide whether they want to meet in person or not. Until the world gets a handle on this horrible disease, we will kind of have to roll with the punches. “
Standing downtown, Patterson pointed out that the annual Downtown Blues Fest – which took a pandemic hiatus in 2020 – is expected to be sold out on the weekend of September 10-11 and that the Hulman Center refurbished will be interesting to see when it’s near full capacity for ISU basketball games.
Away from the city center, especially during the (seemingly) never-ending pandemic, the tourism situation has seen its ups and downs.
“We’ve had some good events over the last month or so,” Patterson said. “We had the three-day national championship [USAC.25 Generation Next Tour] quarter-midget event, which was a wonderful activity in late July.
Among the positives, he also mentioned the continued expansion of Griffin Bike Park in southern Vigo County.
Meanwhile, Patterson isn’t sure when the next Terre Haute Air Show, a popular event in the past, will return. The last one took place in August 2018.
“We talked about it,” he admitted. “But the [U.S.] military has its own issues right now. . . . So we kind of decided to see what was going to happen here in the short term and then make a decision. “
In other words, Patterson wouldn’t rule out an appearance in the future, but don’t expect it in the next couple of years.
On a negative note, in Patterson’s opinion, he’s still not thrilled that the organizers of Scheid Diesel Extravaganza announced at the end of 2019 that the event will move to Lyon. . . and it wasn’t even related to the pandemic.
“It was a rich event for our community,” he said. “We’ve had 15 years of Scheid Diesel and I wouldn’t rule out their coming back either. Personally, I would like to have a discussion on their return here.
Regarding the county-wide tourism status in 2021 and 2022, Patterson expressed mixed feelings because of the pandemic: “I want crowds of people crammed into one place.”
And he still maintains hope that a casino will be built in Vigo County, despite recent news that cast doubt on it will happen.
“No pun intended,” Patterson said, “but we’re at a crossroads as a community.”