Visitor Center decision tabled until next Month
At the last Board of Supervisors meeting on February 11th, a decision on whether to accept a bid for construction of a visitor center in Bath County was tabled until Tuesday, March 10th by the board. County Administrator, Ashton Harrison, discussed with the board in late January that there was only one bid for the project and that bid is for 2.83 million dollars from Neilson Construction Co. Harrison shared that Neilson was willing to hold that bid until March 15th of this year.
Board member, Shelton Burns stressed the fact that the lodging tax revenue would pay for the construction, saying that the visitor center would be funded through tourism money and not general fund money. Supervisor Ron Shifflet stressed that he’d rather have a working tourism staff before we build a building and not build a building and put staff in afterwards.
Harrison shared they’ve scaled back the size of the building and haven’t added anything to it since being scaled back. He said the number one goal of the county’s 2015 tourism development plan is to improve tourism product offerings. That plan says the county needs a visitor and community center to provide a place for tourists to get information and a place for the community to gather. This plan also identified that the county not having a visitor center is a weakness. Harrison estimated two employees would be needed to operate the center at 66,317 dollars annually.
Board member, Roy Burns, shared that the feedback he’s received so far has been split down the middle and said quote,
“I’d like to table this decision until the March 10th meeting. I’ve had a lot of phone calls and a lot of letters from a lot of folks..I really am on the fence. I really need as much input I can get from as many people as I can get it from”
Chair Eddy Hicklin agreed to say it gives the board another 30 days to think about it, and board member Lee Fry said he would like the visitor center to be part of this community but thinks they need more time to think about it as well, saying that this isn’t dead in the water by any means.
Locals Kes Phillips, Carl Chestnut, and Wally Robertson all said during the public comment that the board should table the decision and give spending this amount of money more thought. Phillips also said he didn’t like that there was only one bid. Tammy Hahn, who operates the Vine Cottage Inn with her husband, Dave, said she would like the county to move forward with the visitor center. She shared that 2 years ago, tourism generated 289 million in Bath and provided 1,800 jobs. Of the 133 localities in the state of Va, Bath ranked 18th in tourism revenue generated. She asked, “Isn’t it time we started promoting our largest industry instead of ignoring it?”
Vice president of the Bath County Chamber of Commerce, Tom Richardson, said he believes the price is too high.
Ashton Harrison pointed out that the cost is not just for the building, but for other amenities like site work and landscaping.
David Mikula of Mikula Harris which for the past 9 months, has been the firm hired to oversee the county’s tourism initiative, gave a presentation on the progress of the tourism program. A big part of this advertising plan was to quote “take social media to another level” which he says has been accomplished. Here are some quick stats-
From July to December 2019, the Facebook read for tourism was about 231,000 views and also an e-newsletter is sent out to those who have opted for it on the tourism website, discoverbath.com.
Mikula also stated that 20,000 brochures have been placed throughout the state and that Bath is also back on TripAdvisor and during the first 3 months, around 900 clicks were directed to the website, saying that there’s been a 32% increase over the previous year. Virginia Tourism Corporation granted 25,000 dollars and the effects of that will be seen this Spring and Summer. He also noted that Hot Springs has been named as the Top Adventure Town by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine and some Bath businesses won best of the Blue Ridge. The VA-1 tourism summit will be held at the Homestead in November of 2020.
At the end of the meeting during the board comment, Hicklin said the tourism program had not recovered from the decision to eliminate the tourism director in 2016. He said quote,
“I feel like we’ll be paying for the Maggie Anderson decision for a long time. That hurt a lot of people.”
The next board of supervisors meeting will be on March 10th at 6pm at the courthouse in Warm Springs. The public is always welcome to attend.
For AMR News, I’m Abby Dufour