The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

May 28, 2014

I-90 tourist center near zero on area information

CONNEAUT — State Rep. John Patterson is counting on a meeting with Ohio’s top tourism official to get people and local pamphlets back into the tourist information office inside the Interstate 90 rest area/weigh scales complex in Conneaut.

Patterson said Tuesday he hoped a late afternoon meeting with Mary Cusick, the new director of TourismOhio, would spur action regarding the lack of information about area attractions at the office.

“Our gateway information centers should be welcoming our out-of-state travelers,” he said. “It’s appalling.”

A visit to the office on Tuesday was telling — some brochures were in a rack handing on a wall, but two large display wire racks in the darkened room were empty.  During the span of just a few minutes, dozens of people passed the office doors en route to rest rooms. But if any of them wanted detailed information about Conneaut or Ashtabula County, they were out of luck.

Conneaut has tussled with Columbus over the status of the information center in the past. Last year, city officials — led by Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia — argued strongly when the state decided to cut back on personnel who once worked at the office, assisting visitors and recommending activities. The brochure situation has only added fuel to Garcia’s ire.

“There’s nothing (at the office),” Garcia said at a council meeting earlier this month. “We’re not getting our just due from Columbus. Welcome to Ohio? It’s a disgrace out there.”

But this year, ODOT is no longer in control of the tourism offices. A new agency, TourismOhio, manages the offices, Patterson said. TourismOhio is a subsidiary of the Ohio Development Services Agency, he said.

“ODOT is no longer in the business of staffing and stocking tourist information centers,” Patterson said. “(The offices) got caught in the transition.”

The office is experiencing some growing pains which has impacted the brochure situation.

“They have yet to secure a vendor to place literature (in offices),” Patterson said. “They’re running way behind on their vendor contract.”

Ohio contracts with a company to coordinate the many brochures available to tourists in the offices. Organizations pay a fee for the privilege to display their wares in the offices, and the vendor makes sure the literature reaches the public.

The bigger issue, Patterson said, is the lack of people standing behind the counter to greet visitors.

“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (to attract tourists) and yet there is no person (at the offices) to greet them,” he said. “I want people to learn more about what we offer. We have to close the deal.”

Hours before his meeting with Cusick, Patterson said he was hopeful the session would prove productive.

“I’ll try to implore her to see things our way,” he said. “Something has to be done.”

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