Our Vision for a NEW Visitor/Welcome Center
Why we need it!
We are the hub of Northeast South Dakota, serving a population of close to 100,000 within a 100-mile radius and we do not have a Visitor Center. We are missing a huge opportunity to promote our area’s attractions, amenities, and events. Increasing our interaction with visitors will lead to visitors staying longer, attending more events, and increasing their spending. This, in turn, increases Triple B funds used to promote and grow our community.
Our community has worked hard to grow our population over the last several years and we want to keep that momentum going by being more accessible and accommodating to new and current residents. We will increase our ability to share and promote the opportunities for individuals and businesses to be engaged in community issues, projects and opportunities. Increased engagement leads to higher retention for our businesses and helps support city services.
We can create a one-stop center for visitors, businesses and citizens, by co-locating the offices of the Chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), as well as other community-oriented organizations who have already expressed interest. This will allow for stronger communication, increased coordination of efforts, and costs savings between multiple organizations. This is something the Aberdeen City Council has asked us to consider for several years. We are excited to expand the programs and services we currently provide, while also implementing new ideas and efforts such as an Aberdeen Store, Home-Grown and Hand-Made Marketplace, community meeting rooms, non-profit/service club storage areas, etc.
How did this idea develop and how has it moved forward?
The Board of Directors and staff of both the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) have discussed the possibility of co-location and the addition of a Visitor/Welcome Center for numerous years. Other properties have been considered in the past, but for one reason or another, those properties were not feasible. Once this facility became available, the Chamber Board of Directors appointed a task force, made up of board members, as well as CVB and Chamber staff, to research the possibility and potential of this project.
Task force members did a considerable amount of work to vet this project, including meeting with the City Manager and City Attorney; touring the facility with city and library personnel; reviewing past improvements to the property; discussing necessary improvements and developing a renovation budget; drafting preliminary renderings of the space; outlining potential revenue sources and anticipated expenses at the facility; discussing the pros and cons of relocating; and meeting one-on-one with members of the council. The Board of Directors considered all this information before agreeing to move forward with this project.
The City of Aberdeen declared the property as surplus at the March 13, 2017 council meeting. This prompted the Chamber Board of Directors to submit a Letter of Intent to the City of Aberdeen offering to purchase the Alexander Mitchell Library for $350,000. This is the dollar amount budgeted for the sale of the property by the City Manager as part of the overall new library package, approved by tax payers. State statute allows the city to transfer real property to a non-profit corporation for public, charitable, or humanitarian purposes. The Chamber spoke to the Mayor and council regarding the proposal and Letter of Intent at the meeting held on Monday, March 20, 2017.
At the March 27, 2017 council meeting, the City approved an appraisal to be done on the property to be completed within 45-60 days. When completed, the appraisal is confidential unless the council chooses to make it public, after the sale. Once the council has reviewed the appraisal, they can accept our letter of intent and we would enter into an agreement to purchase the property. They can also open the property up for public bid. The Chamber could then bid on the property with other interested parties. If our bid is accepted, we will move forward with the project and, If not, we will consider other options.
How will this benefit the community?
We acknowledge there are varying opinions in the community on the value of the property and what it should be used for. We believe strongly that not only have we brought forth a fair offer, but that it provides for the highest and best use of the facility. We are asking the City Council to consider the long-term benefits that could be realized, rather than looking only at a one-time return from the sale of the property. We believe it provides an incredible opportunity for the city to invest back into their community, and the organizations who work alongside them to grow and improve our community.
In the Mayor’s recent State of the City Address, he discussed the many new public and private developments completed in recent years that have had a positive impact on our community. He encouraged citizens and business to continue moving forward with practices which help facilitate population growth. Some of the practices he encouraged included: encouraging newcomers to join and lead community groups; enhancing quality of life features for all; welcoming newcomers and make them feel wanted; maintaining and adding to Aberdeen’s services to the trade area; providing the routine things for functioning daily lives; and respecting those who resist change and growth, but push ahead. We believe this project addresses these success strategies set forth by our Mayor.
This project is not unusual, as the City of Aberdeen has entered into several partnerships and collaborations in recent years with other non-profit, governmental and educational entities for the betterment of the community, including but not limited to:
- Revitalization of the old Aberdeen Central High School complex where ownership of the property was transferred to the City of Aberdeen by the Aberdeen School District. The School District declared the property as surplus and sold it directly to the city. The facility now houses the City’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department with space for administrative offices and ARCC programming and activities, as well as the Aberdeen Area Arts Council, etc.
- Collaboration between Parks and Recreation and Forestry Department and the Aberdeen Sertoma Club for the successful operation and continued enhancements of Storybook Land.
- Financial contributions for new facilities to serve the public including the Northeast Health and Fitness Center and Youth Development Center of the YMCA; Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen; Safe Harbor, BMX, etc.
This project also capitalizes on the success of the new library and provide tax payers more “bang for their buck.” The facility no longer met the current and expanding needs of the library, but does meet the needs of our organizations. The community will not only have a state of the art library, but also a center that acts as a showpiece for our visitors, as well as a center for information and engagement. This project, unlike others mentioned above, can happen with no additional cost to the tax payer or the City of Aberdeen.
Why this property?
It’s a perfect location. The property is situated along 6th Avenue, which will greatly increase the visibility of our organizations and the services we provide. With over 30,000 cars driving by per day, we will be better able to direct people to Downtown Aberdeen, Storybook Land, Northern State University, Presentation College, and other businesses and landmarks within the community.
The property would also be eligible for low-interest financing for purchase and renovation through the “Growing Rural Communities Fund” which was developed to spur job creation and economic revitalization in distressed communities. The project qualifies, as it fits within the intended use guidelines, but most importantly fits within the very limited geographical boundaries of the program, whereas another location in the community may not qualify.
In addition, the Chamber has applied for grant dollars to offset purchase and renovation costs. However, our grant request is tied directly to this specific location, based on the opportunity to re-purpose the building by collaborating with local individuals and groups on the artistic design of the center. This grant is very competitive and our project may not be selected. However, if it is selected and we are unable to purchase the building, we would not receive the grant.
Finally, by working with us, the City is assured that sale of the property moves forward in a timely fashion and ensures that the property will not sit vacant or be demolished. It also maintains the facility as a community-based center, keeping the integrity of the neighborhood intact.
What is the Chamber willing to invest in the project?
As stated, the Chamber would purchase the property from the city for $350,000 and pay property taxes annually to the City of Aberdeen. The Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will determine how best to fund the purchase and renovation. They have already discussed options including the sale of our current building, securing a mortgage, raising funds through a capital campaign, grant opportunities, leasing space within the facility, etc. The Board of Directors is confident that the project is economically feasible for our organization to move forward in cooperation with the Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau.
How can you help?
- Sign Online Letter of Support of this Project by clicking HERE; and/or
- Email your own thoughts to the Mayor and City Council by clicking HERE