The smoke-gray, vinyl-sided building may not look like much now, but when Genesee County Chamber of Commerce officials gaze upon the vacant house converted into office space on Park Road, they see a spruced-up facade and a big sign that says "Visitors Center."
It's been a decades-long dream for the Chamber to relocate its headquarters and visitors bureau to space closer to the Thruway exit in the Park Road/Oak Street area.
Now plans are coming together to purchase this building on Park Road across from the Sheriff's Office and just south of the Clarion Hotel.
The building isn't as visible as something right at Park and Oak, but it will still be plenty visible to visitors passing through Genesee County, said Chamber President Tom Turnbull.
"The location is right in the middle of everything," Turnbull said. "There are 800 hotel rooms right in the area. There's the Clarion, Batavia Downs, Alex's, Applebee's. It's where we want to be. It's someplace where we can capture people as they come into the area and bring them into the county. That's what we've always wanted to do. That's been the dream to get there."
There's a sign outside the current chamber offices in the City Church building on East Main Street that says, "Visitors Center," but tourists rarely stop there. There's also the visitors hut in the parking lot of the Holland Land Office Museum, but with the median on Route 5 restricting traffic flow, it's hard to access and is seldom visited.
Turnbull thinks the proposed location on Park Road will get more tourist activity and help the tourism staff and volunteers do a better job of guiding people to the abundance of sightseeing opportunities locally, from HLOM, to Darien Lake, to the Jell-O Museum to Genesee County Park & Forest and the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.
"We want to get people out into the county," Turnbull said.
Turnbull has heard from the critics, the people who are skeptical or concerned about chamber leaving Downtown.
We can do more for Main Street out there than we can down here," Turnbull said, adding, "The chamber itself might be better off here, but tourism isn't. While the chamber can be good out there, tourism can be great out there."
The location, at 8276 Park Road, was first spotted on Google Maps when a committee of chamber members were scouring the area for a potential location.
Turnbull admits that at first he didn't see the potential for the building.
"My vision isn't very good," Turnbull said. "I looked at it and said it's an ugly old house, but start talking to people and they say you can dress it up and put a nice facade on it."
Ed Smart has been hired to do a feasibility study and initial architectural drawings so officials can see just what can be done with the building.
Turnbull remembers the chamber talking about a project like this in 2000, when he was president of the Board of Directors, and in 2001, the chamber was about to purchase the former armory at Oak and Park, but then the 9/11 tragedy happened and the federal government decided it wanted to hold onto its buildings. The INS now occupies that space.
Then in 2007, the chamber and Town of Batavia started talking about a joint facility a little further west on Park Road, where Park turns south and Veterans Memorial Drive splits off to the west.
The plan was to open a joint court facility shared with Elba and Oakfield. But Elba and Oakfield backed out of the project as it neared the approval stage, so its languished since, which is what sent the chamber on a quest to find another potential location to fulfill its dreams.
The chamber has made a purchase offer that is contingent on the outcome of the study.
The plan is to tap into the $500,000-bed-tax reserve to pay for the tourism bureau's portion of the project. This is the kind of project the bed tax is meant to help fund, Turnbull said -- and County Manager Jay Gsell agrees -- and so the chamber will seek County Legislature approval for the expenditure of nearly all of the reserve.
The bed-tax money can only be used for the facade to promote tourism and the downstairs portion of the building that will be used as a visitors center. That is the bulk of the cost of the project.
But since this project is primarily about promoting tourism, Turnbull said he expects tourism revenue to fund some 70 to 80 percent of the total project. The chamber itself will pay for the balance and he said that balance is within the chamber's financial reach.
If the project goes through, the new visitor center could open in about a year.