Eagle pulls the funding plug on its visitor center retail subsidy
Visitor center’s focus shifting away from retail, toward information, marketing
EAGLE — The coffee and conversation are still free and plentiful at the Eagle Visitor Center, but if you want to buy any of the souvenirs or other stuff, you’d better hurry.
Retail sales will continue until the inventory is gone, but when it is, the center will focus on information and sending visitors into town.
The retail side was losing money, and the town found itself subsidizing consigning artists and artisans, Eagle Town Manager Brandy Reitter said.
For a couple of years, the town board has been talking about cutting its losses. In the 2020 budget it did, reducing funding 73%, from $157,000 to $42,000, saying the money would be better spent on police or buildings and grounds.
Most things in the store are 50% off. Most of the artists already rounded up their work and took it with them. The hand-printed sign in front of the cash register says, “All sales are final.”
Brian Hall is Eagle’s new events coordinator. The visitors center falls under his umbrella.
“This is an opportunity to refocus it, to inform and invite guests into our town,” Hall said, adding high praise for the visitors center staff. “We have some great people there and Eagle has so much to offer.”
Tom Harned was head of Eagle’s Chamber of Commerce when the visitor center opened in 1991, in the throes of the oil crash of the 1980s. Harned was among the people from seven agencies who planned it for months.
It’s not like many visitors center anywhere along the nationwide I-70 corridor, Harned said.
“This is one the community has put together, not the Department of Transportation,” Harned said.
Closing the retail side, he said, is probably not a good idea.
“I think the town is being shortsighted. I have friends from Club 20 and other organizations who don’t go through Eagle without stopping,” Harned said.
In a 20-minute span last week, a couple from Tabernash stopped on the way to Montrose to spend New Year’s with his mother. They always stop.
A guy from a Rifle medical supply company always stops. Now, he said, he might not.
“They said they did not want to be in the retail business,” said Suzanne Goodwin, the store’s former manager. “That was not an excuse to close it. That’s a reason to partner with someone.”
“The way we engaged with visitors was through the merchandise. Without that, it’s difficult to engage people. Our goal was always to drive the business downtown.”
Governor helped cut the ribbon
Colorado Gov. Roy Romer was among the hundreds attending the June 19, 1991, grand opening.
All in, it cost $248,000 to build. Eagle kicked in $43,000, Eagle County $25,000 and the state $75,000 through an energy impact assistance grant, a program to help communities recover from the oil industry crash.
The center attracted 40,000 visitors the first year.
Over the years, the other partner agencies and governments fell away, leaving Eagle to pick up the entire funding tab.
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If the coronavirus sparks migration, what will that mean for places like Eagle County, which local economic development officials say is well-positioned to offer people the recreation and lifestyle opportunities they may be seeking?