Planners for Volkswagen's new welcome center have identified a 20-acre tract near Interstate 75 as the prime spot for what will be the face of the automaker's return to making cars in America.
The site sits on the northwest corner of the I-75 interchange where a new road will be built entering Enterprise South industrial park and leading to the $1 billion VW factory, said Steve Leach, the city's public works administrator.
Since the plant itself won't be visible from I-75, VW officials see the welcome center as the chance to communicate the company's brand to an estimated 55 million travelers expected to drive by the site annually.
While Volkswagen officials aren't talking about the design, the center is to be "green," with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design professionals taking part in how it will be crafted.
April Wortham, a VW spokeswoman, said work to bring the welcome center to fruition is under way, though the plant's construction is a priority now.
"At this time, the primary focus is on constructing the production facility to assure start of production in early 2011," she said.
Some welcome centers at auto production plants have become big tourist attractions in their own right.
At BMW's welcome center at its Spartanburg, S.C., assembly plant, 35,000 people a year check out the exhibits and another 35,000 start tours of the factory there, according to the automaker.
BMW's 28,000 square-foot Zentrum, which means "center" in German, showcases the company's heritage of engineering and innovation. It features BMW's history in aircraft, motorcycles and cars as well as a look inside the auto manufacturing process.
In Vance, Ala., Mercedes built its first visitors center outside Germany next to its U.S. auto plant. The center chronicles the history of Daimler-Benz and tells about the company's vision.
The new Kia production plant going up in West Point, Ga., the only auto assembly facility to open in the United States this year, likely will have a welcome center, company spokeswoman Joanne Mabrey said.
She said Kia's sister Hyundai auto plant in Montgomery, Ala., has a center from which plant tours are launched.
Before the VW welcome center is finalized, Mr. Leach said a land swap may have to take place. The 20-acre parcel is located in the park portion of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant, he said.
He said the city will have to swap other property at Enterprise South and/or pay the difference in value after an appraisal.
"There's a process we go though with the U.S. Interior Department. It was the grantor" of the park land, Mr. Leach said.
He said he doesn't expect a problem because the land is next to the interstate and on the edge of the 2,800-acre park property. The 2,800 acres of the 7,000-acre VAAP site was deemed not suitable for industrial development and will be used as a buffer to the industrial park and for recreation.
To fund the center, local government will match up to $6 million of VW money, according to an agreement between the parties.
In addition, local government will pay the operating costs of the part of the center that emphasizes the adjacent park and recreation center, the agreement said.
To fund the welcome center, local government will match up to $6 million of VW money, according to an agreement.