The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 13, 2013

Conneaut's I-90 tourist office open part-time starting July 1

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The tourist information office inside the Interstate 90 rest area in Conneaut will be staffed with a part-time employee beginning next month, according to an Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman.

Brent Kovacs, ODOT District 4 spokesman, said Wednesday the employee will begin work on July 1. That’s the same day a $1.5 billion transportation budget approved by the Ohio Senate in April takes effect. The budget includes $250,000 ODOT may spend to staff tourist offices at entry points to Ohio, including Conneaut.

The state has not hired a worker, Kovacs said. State Rep. John Patterson, whose 99th District includes Ashtabula County, said recently the state “is working through the staffing.”

Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia said recently he understood the office will be open between noon and 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

In January, ODOT announced it would be removing its employees from tourist offices across the state to reduce expenses. Offices would still be open and brochures would be available, but no one would greet visitors.

The announcement raised the ire of local and state representatives, who said the office was a valuable way to answer questions about local attractions. The result was the staffing option included in the transportation budget.

Still in place is the pay-to-display program for brochures and pamphlets at the offices. Organizations now pay a fee to a distributor, who arranges to have literature placed in each of the state tourism offices.

Local officials said they believed the part-time staffing arrangement was a compromise. Garcia, who spearheaded the campaign to salvage the office, wasn’t completely happy.

“The state must not realize tourists come through here seven days a week,” he said recently.

Connie Naylor, of Conneaut’s Board of Tourism, said the part-time hours were expected. “We had pretty much resigned ourselves to that situation,” she said late last month.