VINCENNES — Knox County Council members unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday supporting a 2% increase in the county’s innkeeper tax, in order to explore and support projects to boost sports tourism in the county.

David Niehaus, president of the tourism commission, said he submitted the resolution to state lawmakers Wednesday, Feb. 14.

If the 2% increase is approved by state lawmakers in this session, the increase might take effect in July.

Vincennes/Knox County Visitors and Tourism Bureau Executive Director Janice Barniak presented the proposal to the county’s fiscal body, with letters of support from the tourism bureau, Knox County Chamber of Commerce, Knox County Commissioners, City of Vincennes and the county’s two largest hotels.

The Knox County innkeeper tax, implemented at a 5% rate in August 1993, increased to 6% in March 2020, with the 1% increase earmarked for Grouseland. The original 5% tax collected on lodging within the county funds the visitors and tourism bureau’s operation and projects.

The purpose of an increase, said Barniak, is to target capturing more sports tourism. She said most of the local tourism emphasis is on First City tourism and historical significance, but the county can look to attract a younger tourism demographic. A survey of local tourism determined the average age of Knox County visitors is 65. “We’re missing the opportunity for the ages after the fourth grade field trips all the way to the 50s,” she told the council.

Experience Evansville manages the Deaconess Spors Park and Goebel Sports Park, which attract sports tournament revenue and visitor spending.

Barniak said the local Cal Ripken tourney fills local hotels, when families come and stay and spend money in the community. If the lodging tax is increased, the non-profit visitors and tourism bureau would commission a needs assessment of sports tourism for the county, once enough revenue is collected to fund the study.

Niehaus said Wednesday that if the increase is approved, it will take some time to accumulate enough funds to move forward with an assessment of what types of sports tourism would benefit the most. “We have some great facilities,” he said. Soccer, walking trails, playgrounds or more accommodations at existing outdoor sports venues may be options for development/improvement at the outset, depending on what the assessment shows.

“We have the best tourism attractions...the largest national monument outside of Washington, D.C.,” said Niehaus. “But we’re kind of missing that sports piece of the picture.”

The outcome of the assessment would guide future projects, and Barniak told the council Tuesday that an appointed board would oversee projects and financing.

She said the proposed rate increase from 6% to 8% would translate to an approximate increase of $2.40 per night for visitors staying at local hotels or Air BnBs.

Neighboring Daviess County’s innkeeper tax is 9%, and Vigo and Vanderburgh County taxes are also 8%.
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