October 8, 2014

Tourism touted as key to DeKalb County’s economy

Tourism touted as key to DeKalb County’s economy

DeKalb Daily Chronicle – Published: Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 10:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 11:15 p.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County tourism saw another rise this year, and county economic development committee members hope to see the trend continue.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, presentations were given by Debbie Armstrong, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Alex Nerad, executive director of the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St. in DeKalb. Both stressed the importance of bringing tourism to the area and putting new heads in local hotel beds as a way to push the county’s economic development.

Armstrong said this was the fifth consecutive year tourism spending has increased in the county. In the past year, highlights for the bureau included DeKalb hosting the Illinois High School Association state football championships for the first time, among other county events. This year’s Kite Fest in September also was the largest on record, Armstrong said. She said an increasing number of people are coming out for the festival from other counties and states.

“Next year is our 10th annual Kite Fest, and we hope to team up with [Northern Illinois University] who has a home [football] game that weekend,” she said. “We want to team up with the hotels and, hopefully, have more stays.”

Nerad stressed the importance of arts in the area, although with a $350,000 annual operating budget, he said it can be difficult to compete with the arts programs in surrounding counties. He said although the city of DeKalb does provide funds to the theater through the tax increment financing district, the money cannot go toward operating budgets and only assists with capital projects.

Nerad presented his plan for the future, which included goals to one day install a $2.5 million air conditioning system in the theater, something the theater has never had. The lack of air conditioning means the theater is not in operation during the summer months.

Nerad also hopes to expand programming for the theater, to help increase revenue.

“We hope to dramatically increase programming of national touring acts,” he said. “We see a desire within the area to have that, which would have an impact not only on downtown DeKalb but the greater area, as well.”

He said the theater also has been in talks with NIU to hopefully work together to bring even more programming to the theater.

“We have some building challenges that restrict the ability for bigger events, and going three months without revenue is extremely challenging,” Nerad said. “We have a fantastic [theater] board right now that has been doing serious strategic planning in recent years.”