A year after it moved from Main and Van Buren streets, the Brown County Visitors Center still is under construction.
But it won’t be for much longer, said Jane Ellis, executive director of the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The thing that has guided us is we want to do it right,” she said. “A year from now, two years from now, yes, maybe it’s been a delayed project, but it’s not going to matter this time next year.”
The hope now is to have the new Visitors Center open by the holidays, she said.
The goal had been to have renovations done on the former Circle K gas station at Van Buren and Washington streets by June this year. Ellis said that date was “hopeful, but not realistic probably.”
One of the first challenges the project ran into at the state level was dealing with buried fuel tanks and figuring out how to design around testing wells that had to be left open. “Then we had to talk with civil engineers about the front of it, and how do you put in sidewalks, how do you do proper slopes, grades, all of that kind of stuff while still making testing wells accessible,” Ellis said.
Currently, the CVB is working with the town on getting a permit for a sidewalk out front.
Some of the delays can be explained because the CVB has used small businesses for different phases of the renovation. “We want to use local; we want to use small businessmen. That’s what we are all about as far as Brown County as a community,” Ellis said.
But that can cause backups when unforeseen issues are discovered. Ellis said structural damage was discovered after the drywall was pulled off. This meant a delay in the project timeline.
“We can’t ask small businessmen to sit and not work for two weeks waiting on us to get our stuff worked out. They have to continue on, and so it becomes a shuffle of subcontractors,” Ellis said.
A grand opening also was delayed when the decision was made to renovate the outside of the building as well as the inside.
“We decided we did have the money as well, and we could go ahead and do the front, so that added on its own timeline,” Ellis said.
In September, the Brown County Council approved transferring $300,000 worth of innkeepers tax revenue to the Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission to pay for renovations.
The total cost of the project was to be around $260,000, CVC President Kevin Ault said in September. Most of it — about $200,000 — was to be paid out of cash reserves from the innkeepers tax and the rest out of the CVB’s budget.
The project also includes landscaping and a new courtyard out front, with a fire pit inside a hollowed-out rock, a porch, and planters made of Brown County stone that will double as seating options for visitors.
Two parking spots, including one handicap spot, will be on the Coachlight Square side of the building once construction is completed. Washington Street also has parking for visitors, and so does the Nashville Christian Church gravel lot across Van Buren Street, Ellis said.
Progress so far
Inside, painting is done, carpet has been installed, and the public bathrooms are nearing completion.
“We’re getting into the finishing touches and the ‘costume pieces’ of our local artists,” Ellis said.
Along with using local small businesses, such as The Beamery, which constructed the center’s front porch, the CVB is working with local artists on other aspects of the renovation.
The new center will feature floor-to-ceiling photographs on the walls. Local cabinet maker Darrin Kean is constructing some of the cabinetry for the hospitality desk. Dennis Parman is working on a lighting feature. Brad Cox is making display racks for printed materials and retail items.
Bob Blass, with Oornj Brand Design, helped with the interior design “from traffic flow, to color, to working with the local artists, to graphic installation and all of that,” Ellis said.
Lyn Letsinger-Miller and Leo Miller created a video about Brown County that highlights the county’s history and what there is to do here. That video will be shown to visitors in the center’s multipurpose/viewing room.
Motor coach loading and unloading was moved to the front of the Nashville Fudge Kitchen next door. Currently, when a bus group arrives in Nashville, a CVB employee will welcome the group on the bus and pass out bags with information about Brown County. Now, those visitors will be able to come into the Visitors Center, take a seat in the multipurpose/viewing room and watch a video to learn about Brown County.
The new center also will have interactive kiosks. Visitors will be able to customize their Brown County experience using them.
Ellis said the center is “doing away with individual brochures from businesses.”
Instead, “we decided to make our website that used to be pay-to-play … all-inclusive for a tourism-based business. You get a free listing on our site.”
Tourists will be directed to the kiosks to get on the CVB website, which will help them determine what they want to do or where they want to eat using search filters, like “outdoor dining.” Visitors can then send their plans to the CVB’s printer.
“We’ll help get them where they want to go,” Ellis said.
Once the CVB’s new website launches next year, visitors also will have the option to send that customized information to their cellphones, Ellis said.
A new, printed destination guide also will be unveiled with the new center. It will be arranged in a grid format that shows the amenities at each site and lists their websites and phone numbers, she said.
The CVB also will have new dining, weddings and outdoors printed guides.
A small gift shop will be added as well that reinforces the “Brown County brand,” Ellis said.
“People are coming in and they are buying a T-shirt with our logo on it, and then they’re wearing that on their back and other people are seeing it,” she said. “It’s all about brand recognition.”