By Neil Farrell
Responsibility for running a visitor’s center has come full circle back to the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, after the City Council voted to approve a new, 19-month contract.
The change will include closing of the current visitor’s center at the corner of Morro Avenue and Morro Bay Boulevard.
A new center will open on or about Oct.1 at 695 Harbor St., in the city-owned, former temporary, fire station building.
City Manager David Buckingham ran down the staff report listing the reasons the change was the best option available of three bids. The Chamber Office has parking, a handicap restroom, it’s city owned so no rent, and it has an electric vehicle charging station. Overflow parking is available in the Library lot next door, too.
The Chamber would share the front entry space with the visitor’s center with its employees also helping visitors when the other staff isn’t there, like from 8 a.m. when the Chamber Office opens to 10 when the center opens.
The Tourism Bureau, which has been running the visitor’s center the past few years, is preparing a plan to exit the building, as the lease runs out Oct. 1. The plan was to close the visitor’s center Tuesday, Sept. 29, and be completely moved out by 10 p.m. Sept. 30.
They plan to hire a moving company to do the heavy lifting and much of the furnishings, cabinets and such in the visitor’s center will go up to the new location on Harbor Street.
Questions arose at the council meeting about some $10,000 for tenant improvements the City gave the Tourism Bureau when it moved the visitor’s center up the hill from the Boatyard Center on the Embarcadero in January 2013.
At the Bureau’s recent meeting, a list of improvements was discussed by Board Chairwoman Joan Solu that the money was spent on. That included new paint inside and out, new wood flooring, repairs and re-striping of the parking lot to include a handicap space, landscaping and signage.
The “visitor’s center” signs will be removed and put up at the new location on Harbor. Deputy City Manager Sam Taylor said they also intend to change the street signage around town, like the banners on light poles, to redirect people to the new location.
The Visitor’s Center will again be nestled with the Chamber’s business office, as it was down on the Embarcadero, but with a City contribution about a third of what it used to be.
The new contract would run from Oct. 1 to June 30, 2017, about 19 months. The remainder of this fiscal year — October to next July — the Chamber will get some $37,500, and from July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017 the contract pays $50,000, according to a staff report.
The new center is supposed to have a desk, a computer and WiFi, and the normal brochures and publications. The staff will be able to continue in the new site, just as they changed locations and employers in 2013, when the Bureau got the contract.
The future for the other non-profit agencies, including 97.3 FM The Rock, will be safe until at least next spring. “I told the council I don’t see any changes for the current tenants likely until perhaps May,” City Manager David Buckingham said. “And, it is likely that if the city requires additional space in that building, it would only be one additional office.”