published Friday, April 18th, 2014

Chattanooga Visitors Center shrinks again

Ed Howard, right, works at this temporary setup of the Chattanooga Visitors Center in Shuttle Park North on Thursday. The Visitors Center will move into a new permanent information booth in the tunnel in May that will include a concrete counter, flatscreen TVs, banners and brochure shelves.
Ed Howard, right, works at this temporary setup of the Chattanooga Visitors Center in Shuttle Park North on Thursday. The Visitors Center will move into a new permanent information booth in the tunnel in May that will include a concrete counter, flatscreen TVs, banners and brochure shelves.
Photo by John Rawlston.

The Chattanooga Visitors Center is shrinking, again.

Four years ago, the center -- which aims to orient visitors to the city with brochures, knowledgeable staff and other resources -- filled almost a third of a football field in a building near the Tennessee Aquarium. Then it moved into a space that was three times smaller in the old Bijou Theatre on Broad Street, before hopping over to a temporary space near the Chattanooga Choo Choo while The Block was under construction in 2013.

Now, the center is returning to The Block -- as an information desk in Shuttle Park North.

The setup on one side of the shuttle park's tunnel will include several flatscreen TVs, shelves of brochures and an information desk that will be staffed by as many as four people during peak seasons, said Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB will also reopen the shuttle park's shuttered bathrooms in the tunnel.

"The proliferation of the Internet has lessened the need for a physical building," Doak said. "People are so hyper-connected now, we have the ability to deliver information to them digitally before they get to town and once they're in town. We can do this more efficiently without having a large, expensive structure."

The CVB originally planned to build a sleek, 'Apple-store' style Visitors Center in The Block, but Doak scrapped that plan when costs for the store were estimated at $850,000.

"We certainly take seriously our charge of being good stewards of money, and I was of the opinion it was just way too much money," Doak said.

The CVB researched and discovered that the top three services tourists want from a visitors center are face-to-face communication, printed materials and restrooms. The new information kiosk will offer all of those things, Doak said.

"We're in $100,000 instead of $850,000 -- and we're still meeting our goals," Doak said.

He expects about 250,000 people to stop by the Visitors Center every year. The new information desk should be finished by May 23.

Just down the road at the Creative Discovery Museum, executive director Henry Schulson said he doesn't expect the changes at the Visitors Center to directly impact traffic at the museum, and added that his admission staff have not noticed any drop or rise in attendance with the Visitors Center's moves.

"The CVB is a major driver of business -- the Visitors Center is more on the customer service end, from our perspective," he said. "A lot of people already know where they want to go when they get to town. But I think it's still very helpful to have the Visitor Center people there talking about the attractions and opportunities."

Representatives of the Chattanooga Zoo and Ruby Falls and Rock City both said that the Visitors Center is a valuable resource, and that the businesses don't expect the changes at the Visitors Center to impact attendance.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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