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I am opposed to the relocation of the Visitor Center from its current riverside location on Hot Springs Boulevard, to the mostly vacant old City Market strip mall location on Highway 160.
These two locations offer two visuals — and perhaps two realities — of Pagosa Springs. The current location represents the vibrant economy that exists along the river — the river activities, parks, hot springs and Reservoir Hill. Sounds of whitewater rapids greet visitors to the Visitor Center grounds.
The old City Market location is a scar on our town — a reminder that downtown couldn’t support the original City Market after the uptown City Market was built. It’s a reminder of businesses that have come and gone from that shopping center — now mostly gone. It’s also one of the homeliest strip malls I’ve ever seen.
The idea of using our Visitor Center as an anchor for economic development of a ghost strip mall is absurd. Yet, I heard just that expressed as one of the positives of moving the Visitor Center to that location.
Another reason to relocate the Visitor Center is that there is plenty of parking for RVs and trailers at that location, while there is none at the current location.
That’s true, but what are our priorities? To keep our Visitor Center at a vibrant location that represents the best of Pagosa? Or to relocate it to a homely strip mall with a huge parking lot for RVs? Will tourists even stop? They may find it so unappealing that they will drive on, mentally noting, “This is Pagosa?”
How did we get to the brink of a decision to relocate the Visitor Center to such an unappealing location — and unrepresentative of the Pagosa I love? The Town Tourism Committee (TTC), led by chair Bob Hart and executive director Jenny Green, have pushed the relevance of Internet marketing over on-site marketing, and used that logic as an excuse to cut the Chamber’s budget for operating the Visitor Center. They cut, and cut, to the point that the Chamber finally cut the umbilical cord between the Chamber and the Visitor Center.
The dominoes fell and the proposal was made to move the Visitor Center to the Old City Market strip mall.
I’d like to suggest an innovative alternative to the Town and the TTC’s disparaging treatment of the Visitor Center. Instead of quantifying its value in terms of Internet vs. on-site marketing, value the Visitor Center as symbolic — symbolizing the soul of Pagosa. Market it with a full-page spread in the Pagosa Springs Official Visitor Guide. Yes. In a time when Visitor Centers are deemed obsolete by the techno-crowd, market our Visitor Center as one of many reasons to visit scenic and friendly Pagosa.
“Do it the old-fashioned way. Stop by the Pagosa Springs Visitor Center.”
Revere our Visitor Center for its scenic location, warm hospitality, and as the first physical contact many tourists have with our town. Allow it to thrive at its current, magical location.