TOURISM in Columbus has grown significantly in the past decade, due to the efforts the Columbus Area Visitors Center, in general, and Lynn Lucas and Jim Dietz, in particular.
Architectural tours are a popular draw, and a growing number of sports events draw tens of thousands of athletes and spectators to Bartholomew County each year.
The fact that Columbus is on sound footing with its tourism efforts is important to note as both Lucas and Dietz will be retiring from their positions within the next six months.
Dietz, director of sports tourism, is expected to step down in about a month. Lucas, the executive director, will retire by early next year.
When they leave their posts, they will leave behind a strong legacy of promoting the city and adding events that have enhanced its vibrancy and made Columbus a popular destination.
Lucas joined the Visitors Center in 1999, serving as associate director for five years before taking over as executive director in 2004.
Notably, the Miller House, owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, opened for tours in partnership with the Visitors Center during Lucas’ tenure. With 913 tours in 2013, all Visitors Center tours increased 278 percent from 2010.
The center also has played a key role in attracting national meetings, conferences and exhibits, such as the Paul Rand exhibit and Harry Weese Symposium last year.
Dietz, who as Visitors Center volunteer started the Columbus in Bloom initiative, has made an equally impressive mark with sports tourism, which the city didn’t begin focusing on until 2003. With Dietz directing sports tourism efforts starting in 2008, that industry has blossomed and is projected to have a $14 million economic impact this year for Columbus.
The city hosted 29 sports events in 2003, five years before Dietz stepped in. But that number has grown steadily since then, with about 100 sports-tourism events scheduled for this year.
Sports tournaments are expected to draw more than 2,000 teams and more than 90,000 athletes and spectators this year, the biggest one by far since Dietz’s arrival. His efforts helped Columbus land the Big Ten rugby championships this year and last year an American Junior Golf Association event for the first time since 1990.
The next visitors center executive director and director of sports tourism will follow in the footsteps of two people who have significantly helped increase the city’s profile and appeal to visitors. In doing so, they also have helped make cash registers ring in increasing frequency for hotels, restaurants and other businesses or venues that reach out to visitors.
Congratulations to both as they approach much-deserved retirements.