BEEKMANTOWN — The 2011-12 New York state budget includes funding to reopen the welcome center on the southbound side of Interstate 87 in Beekmantown.
The center closed in December after its funding was eliminated in the 2010-11 state budget. The Adirondack Regional Tourism Council had received state funding to operate the center since it opened 1991.
Tourism Council Executive Director Ron Ofner said he's been told the new budget contains $196,000 for the welcome center. The Tourism Council doesn't yet have a contract with Empire State Development to run the center, he said, but hopes that can be completed soon so it can reopen as quickly as possible.
"We're very excited. We're waiting for the details," Ofner said.
While those specifics were not yet complete, he said the funding is enough to resume full-time operation at seven days a week with three to four full-time staff and one or two part-time workers.
The welcome center operated without state funding from April 2010 until December through reductions in staffing and hours of operation.
It was open 10 hours a day, seven days a week with four full-time workers and one part-time employee at full operation. In an attempt to stay open, that dropped to eight hours a day, Friday through Monday, with three full-time workers.
The Tourism Council applied for a $75,000 grant from Empire State Development in September. That money is slowly making its way through the pipeline and is used to cover past expenses, Ofner said.
During 2009, the center had more than 100,000 visitors. It hands out about 195,000 brochures annually.
Staff answered more than 7,500 phone calls and mailed more than 50,000 tourism guides that year. The center provides information on shopping, recreation, dining and family entertainment opportunities throughout the Adirondack area.
Ofner said close to 85 percent of those visitors where Canadian, primarily from Quebec. He estimated about one-third had never visited the Adirondack Region.
With a strong Canadian dollar, it is even more important to inform those visitors what is available throughout the region to get some positive economic impact locally before Canadian tourists head farther south, Ofner said.
"I look forward to getting back to pointing people to the things in our region," he said.
OFFICE FOR COUNCIL
Ofner said State Sen. Betty Little, who is chair of the Senate Tourism Council, was instrumental in having the funding included in the budget.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said State Assemblywomen Janet Duprey and Teresa Sayward also played a role.
"The Beekmantown welcome center has always been important to the North Country, but it's especially important going forward as we seek to maximize the experience of our Canadian visitors and thereby maximize their spending here. Canadian visitation is on an upswing with the two countries' currencies staying near par, and Canadian visitors' spending is the number-one opportunity for growing our region's tourism and retail sectors this summer," he said in an email.
The welcome center also serves as the Tourism Council's office space. It is a non-profit consortium of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Warren counties, as well as the Town of Webb in Herkimer County.
For more than 30 years, the destination-marketing organization has aimed to spur job growth, build business opportunities and improve the quality of life in those regions.
For more information, visit www.visitadiron dacks.com.
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