BEEKMANTOWN - A popular northern New York welcome center is shutting down as a result of New York's ongoing fiscal crisis.
The "I Love New York" Gateway Welcome Information Center - located in the town of Beekmantown near the Canadian border -will be closed to the public until further notice.
Ron Ofner, executive director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council -the organization that operates the center - noted the facility has welcomed millions of visitors to New York and the Adirondack region since opening nearly two decades ago.
The state pulled funding for the center in its budget for fiscal year 2010, Ofner said.
"We haven't had a contract to operate that facility since April 1 of this year," he said. "We've been operating the center very judiciously with our own funds. We've reduced staff, we've reduced hours of operation -we've basically been holding out for any kind of funding from the state."
Ofner said the welcome center is the first facility visitors from Canada see when they cross the border. In fact, he noted some 90 percent of people who stop at the facility are Canadian.
Having nothing there to greet those travelers is not a good way to leave an impression, Ofner said. But, the real benefit of the welcome center has been its marketing of the Adirondack region, he added.
"We have an opportunity to steer them in the direction to visit various destinations in the Adirondack region," he said. "In particular, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Lake George, different campgrounds, things for children, historic sites - by not having that open we miss that opportunity. People will just sort of sail right through our area and not have the potential to spend some money with us."
Officials note record numbers of Canadians are visiting New York, largely due to a favorable exchange rate.
The North Country, in particular, has benefited from Canadian tourism. While the economic downturn has taken a significant toll state-side, residents of Quebec have not been impacted as much, Ofner said. "Now, with the exchange rate being basically at par, they're coming down and visiting us," he said. "Certainly, for areas like Plattsburgh folks are using the new Plattsburgh International Airport. And they're visiting all of our tourism destinations, which represents a tremendous opportunity to attract visitors, especially when tourists aren't coming from the traditional areas, like the New York City metropolitan area."
Funding may be available to reopen the welcome center in the form of a $75,000 grant from Empire State Development. Ofner said paperwork for the grant has been submitted, although there's no timeline for the awarding of funds.
Ofner said the center can't be operated without cash on-hand, but he's hopeful the situation will work itself out.
"The phrase of the year is 'cautiously optimistic,'" he quipped. "There is funding in the system, it's just a question of when that funding is going to be released by the state budget division."
Tourism officials said they understand the state is going through difficult times. But, Ofner added tourism is the "name of the game" for the North Country, adding it's wise for the state to invest in destination marketing.