Special Segment: Travelers Checks

May 4, 2010 5:01:41 AM PDT
This year Illinois will spend millions trying to attract visitors to the state -- a business officials say brings in more than $30 billion a year. But critics say when the state is broke, that's part of a failed strategy.

"Superman is a very unique opportunity for our town," said Angie Shelton, tourism director, Metropolis, Illinois.

Metropolis, Illinois is the official home of Superman and a giant bronze statue of 'the man of steel.' Now, city and state officials are hoping a new statue of his love interest, Lois Lane, will help draw more visitors.

"Maybe they have been here before to see Superman but they haven't seen Lois Lane so they're going to come back," said Shelton.

"As the mayor of the City of Metropolis it's my job to take every opportunity I can to get every dollar that is generated through state or federal government," said Mayor Billy McDaniel, Metropolis.

Mayor McDaniel says the nearly $30,000 state tourism grant that's helping pay for the statue is money well spent.

"They're going to give that money to someone. Mayor McDaniel is going to be first in line with my hand out to get every dollar that I can get," said McDaneil.

"We're hoping to become a tourism destination in Yorkville," said Mayor Valerie Burd.

Another one of this year's tourism grants will help fund the purchase of a rundown abandoned jail in Yorkville.

"It's atrocious," said Burd. "There's been animals inside. There's paint hanging from the walls.

Burd says with the help of $64,000 from the state they hope to turn the jail into a living history museum.

"Even if five people come here, that's five people more than we had last year," said Burd.

"We're taking taxpayer money to build a statue of Lois Lane and to acquire a piece of property in Yorkville," said John Tillman, Illinois Policy Institute. "I think it's beyond belief and I think it should stop immediately."

Tillman says the state shouldn't be in the tourism business.

"This is why we have such a terrible problem in the state of Illinois...is that the people who dole out the money through the favor factory of state government or the tourism bureau think it's their money when it's actually the taxpayer's money," said Tillman.

"Anything that you do to add on to a tourist attraction or enhance the offering, make people want to stay longer and that will translate into more dollars, tax dollars, jobs, et cetera," said Jan Kostner, state tourism deputy director .

Kostner says the department's $50 million tourism budget is entirely funded by the hotel-motel tax and depends on attracting visitors to Illinois. Kostner says cuts in tourism marketing would mean less money brought in for the state.

"If you start cutting back on that, you'll have less and less and less local and state revenues and your budget crisis gets to be even more," said Kostner.

More than $330,000 of tourism grants are also helping to renovate an exhibit hall at downstate Rockome Gardens. State money will turn it into an Amish-style general store and cheese-making shop scheduled to open this month.

"Putting state dollars here and bringing those people here?it's a wow experience for people that don't have any idea of what goes on out here in the country so I think that's a great way to employ the state money," said said Owen Gingerich, general manager, Rockome Gardens Foods.

"It's picking the winners and losers and running a favor factory out of Springfield," said Tillman. "That's what some people think the right way to do thing is and it's not working in Illinois."

The state tourism office says that by law one third of the money collected under the hotel-motel tax is supposed to go to tourism. But the amount of hotel-motel tax money that goes to tourism instead of the general fund is ultimately determined by the governor.

This year tourism is nearly fully funded.


Load Comments