Officials with the Grouseland Foundation are pushing for state legislation that would allow for an increase in the local innkeepers tax rate to fund repairs to the mansion where then Indiana Territory Gov. William Henry Harrison and his family lived for awhile.
The Vincennes Tourism Bureau, however, is opposed to the rate increase, worrying it will create a domino effect of other local tourism spots wanting the same.
Members of the Knox County Tourism Commission on Monday met for their quarterly meeting and, upon hearing of the Grouseland Foundation's request, directed Beam to write a letter of opposition to state Sen. Mark Mesmer, R-Japser, who authored a similar bill last year — which failed — and who has expressed to Grouseland officials that he is willing to give it a second go during this session of the General Assembly.
The bureau's board of directors, a separate governing entity, has already sent such a letter, Beam said.
Lisa Ice-Jones, executive director for the Grouseland Foundation, said the organization could use potential revenue from a 1-point increase to the innkeepers tax to fund everyday maintenance and restoration efforts.
It would generate for Grouseland upwards of $40,000 to $60,000 per year, or about 30 percent of its annual budget, Ice-Jones said, and that would be spent on continued restoration efforts to ensure the mansion remains in good shape.
There has been a common misconception locally, she said, that the funding would go to pay for a new visitors center, but that project, she said, should it come to fruition, is being taken on by Vincennes University.
“What this would do is provide us with a baseline for restoration and preservation of the building,” Ice-Jones said. “Not for the visitors center, but for Grouseland itself.
“The (mansion) needs a lot of upgrades and improvements.”
The tourism bureau is funded solely with innkeepers tax dollars, which are collected by local hotels, and is currently the only recipient of those dollars.
The money is used to market all of the sites in the county, Beam said, and for mini-grants for local events and programs aimed at increasing overnight visits to Knox County.
The current innkeepers tax rate is set at 5 cents on the dollar, Beam said, the same as other surrounding counties.
And while the bureau hasn't heard directly from Grouseland officials on their reasons for seeking the rate increase, board members and the tourism commission are adamantly against it.
If Grouseland gets an increase, they are worried about other attractions following suit.
“There are seven major museums/attractions in our area,” Beam wrote in a letter to the members of the tourism commission last week. “If Grouseland gets a dedicated funding source of 1 percent, surely the other attractions will be asking for their part of the pie.”
Local hotel owners would inevitably pass the increased fee onto their visitors, so Beam is concerned that room rates here would increase too much, thereby discouraging tourists from staying.
“This impacts the competitiveness of our hotels within our market,” Beam wrote.
Ice-Jones said she and her board understand the bureau's concerns, but they don't agree.
“We knew that was the case here locally, that they thought if we got it then everybody would go the same route,” Ice-Jones said, “which is what happens around here all the time.
“But Grouseland is important to the entire state of Indiana,” she said. “Grouseland was the gateway to statehood. And it's a presidential site.”
Ice-Jones said after the state's bicentennial celebration in 2016, many Indiana officials have turned their attention to Grouseland.
They've had several state legislators visit, she said, and the state budget committee held a luncheon there. Gov. Eric Holcomb was the keynote speaker at their annual dinner last year, and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, too, has paid a handful of visits.
So the foundation saw it as an opportunity to possibly secure a steady stream of funding.
“We have to be creative in our pursuits of funds,” Ice-Jones said. “We start at zero every year and have to earn our budget. I think if people understood that better, they would want some type of steady support to ensure (the mansion) is always here.
“It would be nice if everyone would rally behind this because I think it would be good for everyone.”
Vincennes University officials announced this fall that they'd reached an agreement with the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution for the demolition of their current chapter house at 3 West Harrison St., as well as their Queen Anne-style rental home nearby, to make way for a brand new multi-purpose facility, both for it and Grouseland.
To pay for it all, Phil Rath, the university's vice-president of finance and government relations, said the university will seek $10 million from the Lilly Endowment. Rath also said this visitors center is part of a larger $15 million effort to build a new student housing complex in that same area, the one for which several homes were recently razed in the Historic District.