Visitor Center will be moving to Chamber office

The Ocean Shores Visitor Information Center (VIC), operated for years out of the Convention Center, will be moving to the Ocean Shores Chamber office across from the IGA grocery store with funding from the 2019-2020 city budget.

The City Council in passing the budget last week also approved $45,000 recommended by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) for the move of the city’s primary public source for information about the area, events, lodging, amenities and other attractions.

The change comes as longtime VIC manager Cathie Parker retires and as new city/Convention Center marketing director Diane Solem has moved into her position.

Parking was one of the issues that came up in the move, Chamber Director Piper Leslie explained. The Chamber leases its office space, about two blocks from the Convention Center. The Chamber is located at 114 E Chance a la Mer, Unit 100.

Leslie told the City Council that the owners of the building met recently and will be designating two parking spots to be used for the visitor center.

“We’ll have two spots right up front,” Leslie said. There also is handicapped accessibility with ramps that allow access into the building, she noted.

“There’s parking in the front, on the side and in the back.”

The Chamber “is really excited about the potential and the opportunity,” Leslie said of the move.

The decision did have some critics, including resident Don Williams, who encouraged an award of “zero dollars” to the Chamber.

“The proposed location in my opinion is the worst possible location for a visitor information center. It’s not even even close to the equivalent of what’s at the Convention Center in any way at all,” Williams said.

He questioned whether there would be enough parking, or how anyone with an RV or pulling a trailer could stop there, and suggested that several other private businesses already supply visitor information and could operate the VIC.

“Does it make any sense at this time to spend $45,000 to add to the Chamber’s workload?” Williams asked in public discussion on the topic on Nov. 13, suggesting the proposal be tabled for a year.

Kathy Harris, a member of the LTAC decision-making group as a board member of the Ocean Shores Food Bank, noted that the Food Bank’s annual fundraising events have sold most of their tickets through the city’s VIC.

“They have always been responsible for that, so I looked at it really personally when we were talking about a move,” Harris said.

Another factor in her decision was that “a majority of the visitor centers are in conjunction with the Chamber” at other areas she looked at.

“I think we just have to go with that,” Harris said, suggesting the two parking spaces be limited to 15 minutes each so that people can have better access for things like ticket sales.

“We don’t want a visitor there parking their car and then shopping all up and down for the rest of the day, using up those parking spaces,” she noted.

Council member Susan Conniry received an assurance from Mayor Crystal Dingler that the city still will have oversight over the VIC when it moves, and asked if it would be required to report back to the City Council.

“I think that’s something we haven’t determined yet because we haven’t done this before,” Dingler said. “It’s a one-year deal, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it. They have a year to strut their stuff and show what they can do. I think that’s a real opportunity that they will take up.”