by Eva Potter

Ellicottville may soon become the county’s central location for tourism information with proposed construction of a new visitor center.

On Sept. 5, 2012, Brian McFadden, executive director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, presented a proposed plan to the Cattaraugus County Development and Agriculture Committee to remodel the current Kwik Fill gas station and Red Apple convenience store located on the corner of Mill Street and Route 219 into a visitor center for the purpose of promoting county tourism.

The gas station and store are scheduled to move to a new location across the street sometime in November.

McFadden said the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce board of directors took the lead for this project and the Ellicottville, Olean and Salamanca chambers have been involved. He clarified that the Village and Town of Ellicottville have not been involved in the project.

“With tourism a $186 million dollar industry employing 14 percent of the county population, we need to do a better job of growing the industry throughout the county,” said McFadden.

Jayne Fenton, executive director of the Salamanca Chamber of Commerce, who was present at the committee meeting, said, “The Salamanca Chamber is endorsing this effort as something good for Salamanca and the entire region.”

The proposed visitor center, which would be geographically located in the center of the county, has an annual average of 6,500 cars passing the site daily. The Route 219 travel corridor is the gateway to a 10.5 million population base to the north.

“It is important to understand that this is proposed to be a county visitor center promoting all areas of Cattaraugus County. The benefits would be to showcase all the exciting tourism attractions in the area to visitors who would probably not know they existed. Currently, the county does not have such a facility,” said McFadden.

James Boser, vice chair of the Development and Agriculture Committee, countered that there is a visitor center located at the Allegany Rest Area on I-86, but it is only able to capture westbound traffic.

Fenton said, “Ellicottville attracts many visitors annually. With the travel center, they will be able to easily access information on other visitor attractions outside of Ellicottville, helping to increase visitor traffic to these areas as well. Everyone benefits.”

The plan is for a regional board of directors with representatives from all over the county will create policies for operation of the center. Fenton said she is looking forward to Salamanca being represented on a board that would run the travel center.

Boser attended last week’s committee meeting and clarified that the County Economic, Development and Tourism Department has not been involved in the planning process to date. He said he has no idea if the department has funding available for such a project.

“Right now it’s just a proposed idea. We don’t know where it’s going to go,” said Boser. “As far as our committee goes, we haven’t made any decision yet and whether we can support it. Financially it’s a tough thing to do right now due to the 2 percent property tax cap. I’m not sure where we could come up with funding for it.”

According to Boser, McFadden indicated at the meeting that the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce could financially handle the remodeling of the gas station/convenience store property, but that he is seeking operating support.

“(The Ellicottville Chamber) said it’s going to take about $90,000 a year to operate that center. (The chamber) wants to have a couple people on staff. They’d be open quite a few hours. With restrooms to take care of, they’d have to have a custodian. It is quite a bit of money,” said Boser. Other reports indicated it would cost closer to $130,000 annually to run the center.

McFadden’s presentation included the idea of various tourism businesses buying “spots” in the building to help support the operating cost of the center. He also presented an artist’s rendering of the proposed building’s exterior.

“It’s a very good location due to the fact that the traffic is quite high on Route 219,” said Boser. “Tourism is a big industry in Cattaraugus County. It has grown over the years and employs a lot of people.”

Meme Krahe Yanetsko, CEO of the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce, could not attend the Sept. 5 meeting, but sent a letter of support to Development and Agriculture Committee member James Snyder stating, “The proposed site in Ellicottville is an excellent location for such a center, in terms of visibility, the ability to leverage the significant Ellicottville tourism traffic already coming to this area for the benefit of regional tourism, and continuing to develop our hospitality infrastructure. GOACC looks forward to dedicated space in this center to showcase and promote our area attractions and tourism assets.”

Asked when he hoped the center would be completed, McFadden said, “Ideally, we would like to see it open by the first of the year.”

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