BEEKMANTOWN - The Beekmantown Gateway Welcome Center will re-open this year after lawmakers in Albany this week restored money in the 2011-12 state budget for the center's operation.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Plattsburgh, confirmed today that the new state budget includes $196,000 to re-open the Gateway Welcome Center, which serves as a visitor center for southbound travelers on I-87, the Adirondack Northway, and is popular with Canadians.
"I think we know the value of the center," Duprey said. "It is definitely the gateway of Canada into the United States, including tourist destinations like Lake George and beyond."
When state legislators and then Gov. David Paterson proposed shutting down the Gateway Centers in Beekmantown and Binghamton in 2010, Duprey, Sen. Betty Little and tourism officials from throughout the state fought for the centers to stay open, arguing that they help orient travelers to New York state. In the end, the Binghamton center stayed open, and the Beekmantown center was closed. But local legislators lobbied this year to restore the money for Beekmantown.
"It's never been far away from the focus," Duprey said. "Sen. Little was instrumental with this.
Little could not be reached for comment.
Garry Douglas, president of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, said he is pleased with the news, and it didn't come as a surprise.
"We were very confident that Assemblywoman Duprey and Sen. Little would get this done," Douglas said. There are two dimensions to the funding situation for the Beekmantown center that need to be addressed, according to Douglas. One is economic and the other is political.
"It couldn't come at a better time," Douglas said, referring to the upcoming summer season and that the center's re-opening this spring will have a positive impact on the region's economy. The Canadian economy has been strong, and that was evident with the increase in Canadian shoppers in 2010. He expects that trend to continue this year.
"Canadians are the main users of the center," Douglas said.
As for the closing of the Beekmantown center in 2010, Douglas asserted that the move to de-fund the facility was politically motivated, an effort to do harm to a Republican-held area from a state government controlled by Democrats. He questioned why the Beekmantown center was shut down while the Binghamton center was kept open.
"This is a return to fairness," Douglas said.
The Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC) has held the contract to operate the Gateway Welcome Center in Beekmantown and has provided visitor information and staffed the building since 1990.
When contacted Friday, April 1, ARTC Executive Director Ron Ofner declined to comment on the funding until a new contract is signed.
The ARTC is the promotional organization for the counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Lewis, Warren and part of St. Lawrence. Collectively, they promote the Adirondack Region as a vacation destination.
Each year, the Welcome Center served more than 100,000 visitors, received more than 7,500 phone calls, mailed more than 50,000 guides upon request, and distributed 195,000 brochures.
The number of people served at the center support Douglas' comments on the increased traffic from the north. According to an ARTC press release in March 2010, December 2009 was the busiest December since the center opened, and the last two years were the busiest on record since 1997. More than 85 percent of those visitors were from Canada.
As the center's shutdown was imminent, ARTC ended their comments with this question, "What type of message will be sent upon arrival at a boarded up and closed 'welcome' center? Sorry, New York state is closed."
Now, with funding in place, the message will once again be, "New York state is open."
"That is extremely good news," said Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sylvie Nelson, a native of the province of Quebec. "That's one place where we distribute our publication, the Saranac Lake Visitor Guide."
When the Beekmantown center closed, it shut off a major distribution channel for the Saranac Lake chamber, especially to travelers coming from the Montreal area. Quebec represents the second largest population in Canada.
"They love to come down here," Nelson said. "I'm glad that the state of New York recognizes tourism as an industry and that it is important to rural areas such as the Adirondacks."
The 2011-12 New York state budget went into effect April 1.