The first step in a proposed plan to add a visitors center and update the existing dining hall at the American Legion Building was taken at Thursday’s city council meeting.

“This officially gets it going,” said Mayor Barry White at the meeting. 

The council approved a contract with the firm Bundy, Young, Sims and Potter to begin drafting and engineering additions and improvements, a process that should take three to four months.

If everything goes to plan, by this time next year the new center will be complete and open to the public, said Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Conway.

“The hope would be that we could do construction and not shut down this building from the civic services standpoint of the meetings still going on. We hope this doesn’t shut down as a building for seven months,” Conway. “Now from the office standpoint, it will because they are physically tearing off this part of the building.”

As far as where the Chamber/CVB operations will move, Conway said they are currently in talks with the city about relocating temporarily into City Hall. The solution would require the Chamber/CVB to pay rent, but would be more economical because a lease wouldn’t have to be signed and office infrastructure is already in place. 

The visitors center will be funded by private parties with 85 percent of the money needed already committed to, said Conway. 

The payment for the engineering and drafting will initially come from reserves the city has saved from taxes collected from visitors staying in local hotels. This money will then be replaced once funding from private donors is in place. An agreement is currently being drafted by the city that would transfer ownership and management of the building to the city from the corporation that currently owns and manages the building. Building management is something that the city is more equipped to handle, said Conway. 

 

This agreement must go before the city council for approval, and City Manager David Casteel said he is hoping that can happen in the next couple of council meetings.

Read the entire story in Saturday's Graham Leader.