Warren County officials are now reconsidering establishing a new tourism Information center on Rte. 9 north of Northway Exit 20. This vacant building, beside Orvis Factory outlet on the west side of Rte 9, is the potential site for the center. The entire county tourism department would be moved to the new location, to free up space at the county Municipal Center for the court system which needs more room.
Warren County leaders are taking a fresh look at relocating their entire Tourism Department to a site amidst the outlet malls on Rte. 9 off Northway Exit 20 — after experiencing months of success with a new mall-based tourism information kiosk.
Last year, county supervisors talked of establishing a full-service tourist information center on the busy “Million-Dollar Half-Mile” through which hundreds of thousands of motorists pass through every year.
The concept called for moving the entire county tourism department to a free-standing building on the state highway, a heavily-traveled route carrying tourists from downstate and New Jersey to Vermont.
A spacious, newly renovated building just north of the Orvis Factory Outlet on the west side of Rte. 9 had been under consideration. The store was intended 18 months ago to host the Lickits Ice Cream enterprise.
Early this year, county supervisors shelved the idea due to a hefty purchase price of about $1.2 million, and set up a limited information center in the Adirondack Outlet Mall across Rte. 9.
That modest information center, however, has been so successful that the county leaders are now again giving serious consideration to moving the entire tourism staff to the Lickits Ice Cream building.
Lake Luzerne Supervisor and county Tourism Committee Chairman Gene Merlino said recently that the reconsideration was also based on a recent price reduction on the building — to an affordable $700,000.
He said that county employees manning the temporary information center in the mall had passed out many thousands of tourism leaflets, over five months this summer — far more than had been passed out at the department’s present location in the county center over the last five years.
In the Lickits building, the entire tourism staff could counsel visitors about where to go and what to do in the county, he said, boosting prosperity for county residents.
Merlino said the purchase of the building could be bankrolled by a loan paid back over 10 to 15 years by county Occupancy Tax proceeds.
He also said that moving the tourism staff into a visitors center would boost the county’s self-promotion, as they were brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge of the area.
“It’s an outstanding location, and we have knowledgeable staff that knows this county backwards and upside-down,” he said. “To have such a free-standing information center in the middle of the Million-Dollar Half-Mile is priceless.”
The aim is not just to tout Warren County’s attractions. Relocating the tourism staff would also allow the county courts to expand into the Tourism Department’s existing space in the county center, officials said. For years, the court system has been cramped and more space has been sought for its operations — particularly the family court. Building an addition onto the municipal center would cost millions of dollars, an expense largely avoided by the relocation of the tourism department.
Last week, top county officials toured the Lickits building and examined the premises to determine the renovations needed.
But the concept is not without its detractors.
Glens Falls Ward 3 Supervisor Bud Taylor blasted the concept at a Tourism Committee meeting this week.
He claimed that a full-fledged tourism information center was virtually useless, as travelers planned their trip in advance via the Internet.
“This is not 1955,” he said. “Travelers don’t drive around looking for vacancy signs.”
But Merlino countered that while all travelers might not be looking for an immediate destination, many would be enticed by a visit to the tourism information center to return and enjoy various local attractions and venues on a future trip. Merlino disputed Taylor’s assertions, noting how popular the existing temporary information kiosk.
Taylor continued, citing the cost of ongoing maintenance to the building as a burden to taxpayers, and that removing a valuable property from the tax roll would represent ongoing lost revenue.
Acknowledging the need of more court space, he said that the Board of Supervisors should give up some of its room at the Municipal Center, rather than the tourism department.
“We are a space hog,” he said.
Queensbury at-large Supervisor Bill Mason agreed with Taylor, in opposition to the county acquiring more property and incurring additional debt. Merlino, however, countered that the debt would be paid off with bed tax receipts and not be a burden on local taxpayers.
Glens Falls Ward 5 Supervisor Bill Kenny, head of the county’s Occupancy Tax Committee, spoke out in favor of the full-service tourism center in the busy strip of outlet malls.
“We need a visitor’s center, and we need it on Rte. 9,” he said.
But Queensbury Supervisor Ron Montesi expressed a warning about tackling the proposal right away. He said that the Million Dollar Half Mile was becoming extremely congested with traffic — and with two new malls expected to be built soon, the traffic backups would likely get far worse. One of the new malls is planned by developer Dave Kenny, and the other is to be at the site of the former Montcalm Restaurant.
“We’re now ruining a good shopping experience,” Montesi said, noting that he was meeting with state and regional transportation officials to discuss remedies for the Million Dollar Half-Mile’s congestion.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty said that the relocation concept had potential.
“We’ll be giving this idea a close look,” he said. “We know we have to address the need for more court space, and if it saves us a lot of money, it may make sense.”