Former Victoria mayor to present case for visitors center
March 30, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 30, 2014 at 10:31 p.m.
Victoria City Council will hear a proposal Tuesday based on an old adage: "If you build it, they will come."
However, some council members say former mayor Will Armstrong's proposal for a $425,000 visitors center isn't the answer if the goal is to make the city into a tourist destination.
Armstrong proposes using a portion of the tax collected from the city's hotel and motel guests for a center he hopes will encourage more overnight visitors. Currently, visitors are directed to the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 700 Main Center.
The project is one Armstrong has championed for several years, and a preliminary plan for a 1,700-square-foot building was prepared by Victoria architect Rawley McCoy.
Armstrong proposes the City Council approve constructing a building on Main Street, which he estimates would cost $425,000, or $250 per square foot.
Councilman Jeff Bauknight wants to hear more research before putting any support behind the proposal.
A visitors center "is not going to make Victoria a tourist destination," he said. "It doesn't change the attractions we have."
Bauknight recalled spending $300,000 of the funding set aside for a visitors center to redo the public baseball fields, which increased opportunities for tournaments and "putting heads in beds," he said.
"That was a great use of that money, as opposed to just having a building out there," he said.
Councilman Tom Halepaska said he wants to be sure the city gets the best "bang for the buck."
Location, cost and need are his biggest reservations. While downtown is not the highest traffic area of the city, he said, a visitors center could benefit out-of-towners who may not know about the nearby Riverside Park or the Historic Homes Tour.
"I want to make sure we're thorough and doing this properly," he said. "If this were a perfect world, we would have a visitors center, and it would have plenty of restrooms and people working weekends, but all that costs money."
Projections show that at the end of September, $670,347 in hotel-motel tax funds could be available for the project.
However, the tax revenue has dipped since its $2 million peak in 2012.
Last year, the city collected $1.9 million, and this year's first quarter collection was down 15 percent over 2013.
"Now is the time for leadership on the City Council to unite and make a conspicuous commitment to build Victoria into a destination tourist center," Armstrong said in a written statement.