Visitor center could go by mall; Committee prefers current Hy-Vee site

Published 10:23 am Monday, November 24, 2014

Vision 2020’s Gateway to Austin Committee is eying part of the current Hy-Vee property as the site for a proposed Austin visitor center. However, several things need to fall in place before that can become a reality.

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

The committee is looking at a spot on the south end of the existing Hy-Vee property closer to Interstate 90 as the best site.

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“That is our preferred site,” said committee Chairman John Gray.

That location gives the center visibility and accessibility on Interstate 90, which was one key goal for the center.

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.

Hy-Vee and the city of Austin are in negotiations to purchase the Oak Park Mall property as the site of a 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery store. If that plan comes to fruition, Hy-Vee would be required to demolish its current store with 90 days after the new store is completed. The current Hy-Vee property would then be donated to the Austin Port Authority.

Gray has been in contact with the Austin Port Authority about the property and is slated to appear at a port authority meeting early next year. However, much is dependent on if and when the Oak Park Mall deal is completed.

The 18th Avenue Northwest area is preferred, as the hope is that it would bring in more shoppers for local businesses.

“We would hope to generate additional revenues for our retailers,” Gray said.

The committee is looking for about 3 acres for the site.