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Tourism losing pair of leaders

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The Columbus Area Visitors Center’s top executive and its director of sports tourism are planning to retire.

Executive Director Lynn Lucas and Director of Sports Tourism Jim Dietz will leave their posts within the next six months.

Lucas announced the upcoming retirements at the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday at The Commons’ Nugent-Custer Performance Hall.

The low-key announcements, made to a crowd of 130 people, came out of a discussion among Lucas, Dietz and Visitors Center board president Alan Degner.

“The three of us totally agreed this wasn’t the Lynn show or the Jim show,” Lucas said. “That was done very strategically so that it didn’t become a retirement party.”

Degner said plans are in place to find successors, having been notified of the pair’s retirement intentions several months ago.

Dietz, who also serves as the president of Sports Indiana, plans to transition out of the full-time visitors center position that was created in 2007 and that only he has held.

“I think it’s time to move on and get some new blood in here and new ideas,” Dietz said.

The organization has been interviewing candidates for Dietz’s position, with a replacement expected within the next month, Lucas said.

A timeline for Lucas’ departure has not been finalized, but she is expected to retire early next year. Executive search agency Smith & Syberg will work with the center to fill the executive director’s position, Degner said.

Degner said he intended to ask Dietz and Lucas about their willingness to stay on as part-time consultants.

Lucas said she would consider such an arrangement but not on a long-term basis.

“I really think you need to step aside and let the team be led by a new leader,” she said. “I’m going on my 11th year as the executive director. I think it’s time for the organization to have new vision.”

Lucas came to the Visitors Center in 1999, serving as associate director for five years. She became executive director in 2004.

During her tenure, The Miller House, owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, opened for tours in a partnership with the Visitors Center.

Under Lucas’ guidance, in 2013 the Visitors Center:

Expanded its gift shop and increased revenue by 50 percent.

Increased tours by 278 percent from 2010 to 2013, when the center had 913 tours.

Published two books: “A Look at Modern Architecture and Art” and “Columbus Indiana: Midwestern Modernist Mecca.”

Hosted national meetings, conferences and exhibits including the Paul Rand exhibit and the Harry Weese Symposium.

Awarded $61,147 to Visitors Center partners for 25 events or projects.

Under Dietz’s leadership, the Visitors Center’s Sports Tourism initiative has grown to generate an estimated $14 million a year. It is projected to attract an estimated 88,357 participants for nearly 100 events this year compared with about 60 events last year and 29 in 2003.

“We hate to see them go,” Degner said of Lucas and Dietz. “They’re a tough act to follow.”

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