A plan to develop and operate a welcome center in Pacific, funded in part with tourism funds, has been endorsed by the city tourism commission.
Following a motion by Dennis Oliver, seconded by Kelley Washam, the unanimous vote was taken at the Dec. 3 commission meeting.
Pauline Masson, who chairs the city welcome center committee, asked for the endorsement following a brief Powerpoint presentation outlining a business plan for the center.
The plan included a mission statement, marketing plan, cost of operation and proposed revenue generated by the welcome center.
Mayor Herb Adams created the welcome center committee in March 2012, with Masson as chair and John Behrer, Diane Goode, Jo Schaper, Brenda Wiesehan, Brian Knight, Jerry Eversmeyer and Dan Rahn as members.
The mission of the committee is to develop a plan to create and operate a welcome center/history museum.
The committee held a series of meetings in the Hoven house on West Osage, which the city had purchased for a combination welcome center and history museum. One meeting was held at a Shaw Nature Reserve welcome center.
Masson said individual committee members also visited other welcome centers.
“We were asked to study how other welcome centers operated,” Masson said. “The mayor wanted to know if the function of a welcome center would meet Pacific’s tourism needs.”
The committee focused on which features of Pacific would fit into a tourism marketing plan and came up with a three-tiered marketing concept aimed at keeping the city’s two motels full year-round.
“We’re surrounded by family-style vacation venues that are five to 15 minutes from downtown Pacific,” Masson said. “The welcome center would maintain current calendars of each of those venues to match them with plans of vacationing tourists.”
A trained welcome center administrator and trained volunteers would make certain that everyone who walked into the welcome center would be able to learn the hours and activities at Purina Farms, Shaw Nature Reserve, Robertsville State Park campground, Hidden Valley Ski Resort, Six Flags, the Black Madonna Shrine and other sites.
Maps to Meramec River access points also would be prominently displayed.
“We need to sell what we have at our fingertips,” Masson said.
The third tier of the plan includes marketing vacation sites that are no more than 45 minutes from Pacific, including three big caves, three wine districts, theater and arts venues in St. Louis and major league sports.
The business plan, developed for a freestanding welcome center/history museum, notes that the city currently spends about $47,000 a year to operate the museum alone. The plan proposes supplementing revenue from the tourism funds with a gift shop, rental meeting room and a soda machine for a total of $47,000 to $50,000 a year.
“The cost to operate both the welcome center and history museum is pretty much a wash based on this revenue stream,” Masson said.
At the same meeting, the commission endorsed a plan to swap the museum building and Hoven house for the Red Cedar Inn and make the Red Cedar the welcome center.
The city had planned to sell the Wolf House property to St. Bridget Parish to expand its grade school and at that time purchased the Hoven property to be used as a combined welcome center/history museum. When St. Bridget withdrew its bid to buy the Wolf property, the city found itself with two former residence structures and decided to sell the Hoven house.
At the Nov. 20 board of aldermen meeting when the city discussed replacing the furnace in the museum building, Tim Baker, tourism chair, suggested that the city not spend any money on the building. He said the city would be better of to dispose of the museum building and the Hoven house and buy a building that would be suitable for a viable visitor center and museum combined.
At the Dec. 3 tourism commission meeting, Bruns said a proposal has been drafted to swap the Wolf and Hoven properties for the Red Cedar Inn. The change in ownership might involve three simultaneous closings, which is not uncommon, he said.
Bruns noted that he had a personal interest in the swap because he wants to purchase the Hoven property.
“This swap appears to be a way for the city to own the Red Cedar Inn,” he said.
Baker said at one time he had opposed the Red Cedar as a visitor center building, but changed his mind after evaluating the welcome center committee material.
“If we can develop a welcome center that can increase the number of guests in our motels, that’s a good use of the tourism money,” he said.
Bruns asked the commission to endorse the Red Cedar Inn as the the best building for a welcome center.
Oliver said he would like to see the inside of the Red Cedar before making a decision. He had some concerns about the fire safety of the structure. Washam also wanted to tour the building. Bruns called Jim Smith, Red Cedar owner, and arranged for the tour.
Following the visit to the building, the commission voted to endorse the Red Cedar for use as a combination welcome center and history museum site.
“I can see all sorts of possibilities for the use of the building to increase tourism,” Oliver said. “In fact, if this comes about, I’d like to serve on the committee that sets policy for the welcome center.”
“This is the right use for the tourism funds,” Baker said. “We need to go beyond buying advertising for our civic groups’ events and develop plans that attract new visitors.”