Friday, April 15th, 2011
By Amy Kronenberger
Economy, lake condition bring down tourism
Year was good for collaboration, building partnerships, CVB director says
  Tourism dollars in the Grand Lake area are down more than $10 million in the last two years.
"Take a tough economy and add to that the negative issues surrounding Grand Lake St. Marys, and there probably aren't too many of you who will be surprised to learn local tourism spending is down," Donna Grube, executive director of the Auglaize & Mercer Counties Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), told attendees at the annual CVB banquet Thursday.
The total contribution from tourism to the local economy came to $40.3 million in 2010 - a 22 percent drop from a five-year high of $51.7 million in 2008.
Grand Lake was nearly shut down last year after the state issued an advisory telling people to have no contact with the water due to massive blue-green algae blooms that were deemed toxic. The first algae warning was posted on the lake two years ago, and since that time, several groups have banned together to help restore the lake.
The state last week applied alum to the lake with the hope that it will keep the algae at bay this summer. This short-term fix is part of a long-term master plan that is being put into action to clean up the water.
"While 2010 was not a terrific year for local tourism financially, it was a great year for collaboration and building partnerships that will serve our area for years to come," Grube said.
Hotel room sales reached $4.2 million in 2010, down from $4.5 million in 2009 and $5.4 million in 2008, Grube reported.
Hotel guests are the only numbers the CVB can track annually. Using those numbers, the CVB is able to calculate the amount those visitors spend on gasoline, shopping, restaurants and attractions.
Gasoline, oil and auto repair came to $12.7 million. Restaurants and clubs totaled $14.8 million; entertainment and recreation, $3.4 million; and general retail purchases, $5.1 million.
Grube also talked about new initiatives in the area, such as formation of the Grand Lake Restoration Commission. The group is raising money and working to find solutions to improve the lake.
In the village of New Bremen, the Miami-Erie Canal Visitors Center (also called the Lockkeeper's house) opened. The project was made possible by the the village, New Bremen Historical Society, the Canal Corridor Association and a grant from Ohio Department of transportation.
"Add to that the incredible improvements along the canal being made by the city of St. Marys and future upgrades in Minster, and the canal is shaping up to be quite a draw to the area," Grube said.
In Mercer County, the Sisters of the Precious Blood reached out to community members of both counties and hired Don Rosenbeck to head the Shrine of the Holy Relics in Maria Stein. Rosenbeck has worked to update and upgrade the shrine, she said.
In Fort Recovery, a new exhibit was unveiled at the museum, which clearly explains the clash of cultures that lead to the two battles at that site. The exhibit was created through the work of the Fort Recovery and Ohio Historical Societies.
In the coming year, Grube said the Celina Lake Festival is planning a big celebration to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The Governor's cup will host the World Championships, and the CVB will continue to work to improve the lake.
In one project, the CVB agreed to hear marketing ideas from Ball State graduate students, who chose the lake as their marketing class project. Grube said the students presented the bureau with three different marketing strategies last fall.
Grube said the students offered some terrific ideas, including creative graphics for advertising. The CVB hopes to use some of these ideas in the coming year.
"We believe that things are looking up, and we want to be poised to take our marketing efforts for the Auglaize and Mercer counties to the next level," Grube said.
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