The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 3, 2013

Conneaut mulls limited role at I-90 tourist information office

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Conneaut’s Board of Tourism will consider a limited role with the tourist information office inside the Interstate 90 rest area should the state decide to pull the operation.

Connie Naylor, tourism board chairperson, said the group may be able to ensure pamphlets and brochures are available, but putting a person on site would be a challenge. “Right now the thought of staffing (the office) is a project bigger than we could maintain,” she said.

In January, a Columbus newspaper reported the Ohio Department of Transportation planned to pull its people from the 11 tourist information offices found across the state, mostly inside rest areas like the facility found on I-90 in Conneaut.

Conneaut’s interest in helping may be a moot point — for now. The tourist office in Conneaut remains open, staffed by one person, Brent Kovacs, spokesman for ODOT’s District 4, said Friday. He was unaware of any immediate plans to shut down the office.

Recently, City Council broached the subject of finding other workers to staff the office. At an economic development committee meeting last month, Ward 3 Councilman Richard McBride, at an economic development committee meeting last month, asked the value of having a human being on site.

“I don’t want to see the state spend too much or the city spend too much,” he said.

City Manager Tim Eggleston said it’s always better to “make a connection with people.”

“There are always options, and they don’t have to be expensive,” he said.

Last week, council approved a resolution opposing ODOT’s plan to remove workers from the office.

Meanwhile, Naylor said she has asked State Rep. John Patterson for clarification on what the tourism board can or cannot do at the tourist office. At the very least, the board could make sure travel information is neatly displayed in the office, she said.

“Members would be willing to help with that project,” Naylor said.

Any more than that could be a stretch. “It’s tough to get volunteers (to assist at community events),” she said.

Council also wondered if the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau would want to lend a hand if the office is vacated by the state. Mark Winchell, ACCVB executive director, was unavailable for comment Friday, but in January he said the travel offices are “vitally important to the tourism industry.”

“They are gateways to the state of Ohio,” he said.