Vision 2020 wants more input: Meeting planned for Thursday

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vision 2020 is looking to get even more feedback about a plan to build a visitors center to draw people to Austin.

After more than 30 people attended Vision 2020’s Gateway to Austin visitors center meeting on July 10, Vision 2020 announced it will hold another meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the lower level conference room in the Town Center, 329 North Main St., to get more input from the public on how the proposed visitors center should be built.

“We had heard from a few people that they would have liked to have attended but they had jobs and it would be nice if we had an evening session,” said John Gray, Gateway to Austin committee chair.

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Many of the people who attended the July 10 meeting were officials from local nonprofits and government entities, so Gray said this meeting is a chance for more members of the public to learn about the project and give input.

The Gateway to Austin committee proposes a unique, attractive building that would provide a place for people to relax and learn about Austin and Mower County.

The committee has outlined several features it would like to see in the center: restrooms; an animal run; conference rooms; a small auditorium; a small walking trail with informational postings; indoor and outdoor children’s activities; an RV dumping station; a gift shop; a reception desk; displays and interactive maps about area locations; parking for cars, trucks, RVs and trailers; and more.

Organizers are still looking for ways to fund the project, which could cost $4 to $5 million. Gray expects to ask the Austin City Council and Mower County Board of Commissioners to help fund a small percentage of the project, while the rest of the money could come from grant dollars and The Hormel Foundation.

RSP Architects will again lead the discussion and will take input from Thursday’s meeting and the July 10 meeting, along with further community research, to create a rough proposal by the end of this fall.

One potential site for the visitors center is near 11th Drive Northeast, the exit from Interstate 90 where the former Watts Cookin’ — now a Kwik Trip — is located. That site would be near East Side Lake, Todd Park and current bike/walking trails. The other potential site is between 14th and Fourth Streets Northwest somewhere in the 18th Avenue retail district, which some committee members favor as it would attract travelers to a retail hub.

Gray noted drawing people into Austin is only step one.

“We would like to have them spend their money here too, which is a big advantage to tax payers,” he said.

At the July 10 meeting, people questioned if an auditorium is needed as part of the visitors center, but Gray noted it would only be big enough for a bus load of people. The city of Austin’s Public Works Director Steven Lang said city officials would likely oppose the project if it involved an RV dumping station, as it could add too much stress to the city’s sewer system and wastewater treatment plant.