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So much for regional cooperation in tourism?

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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Wed Jul 07, 2004 11:19 pm    Post subject: So much for regional cooperation in tourism? Reply with quote

It seems like just yesterday (actually, it was 5 years ago, in 1999) that the Gateway Regional Visitor's Center at Volunteer Landing in Knoxville opened to great fanfare. This 11,000-square-foot building was supposed to be a regional tourism center, built and operated with the assistance of the Smokies National Park and various Oak Ridge organizations, in addition to the Knoxville tourism establishment. The DOE-Oak Ridge website has a glowing description (last updated in 2001) that highlights the contributions of Oak Ridge-based entities:

Developed and currently operated in a unique partnership, the new Gateway Regional Visitor Center, officially opened its doors April 23, 1999. The Visitor Center, part of the City of Knoxville’s Volunteer Landing complex, houses an integrated interpretive program (exhibits, a multimedia presentation, etc.) showcasing the uniqueness of the region as a place “Where Nature and Technology Meet.” Providing an orientation and link to the entire region, the Visitor Center celebrates the natural diversity of this area, the pioneering spirit of its people, and some of the technological marvels that have been developed in East Tennessee. It also serves as the primary location for visitor information on Knoxville.

When the City of Knoxville initiated the waterfront project, they sought funding and technological and operating support from diverse sources. Funding for construction came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the State of Tennessee, and the city. The Tennessee Valley Authority donated the land being used to build the Gateway Village facilities, while Lockheed Martin Corporation donated $100,000 as start-up capital and organized and sponsored a patron’s group to raise an additional $100,000.

Operational support for the Gateway Regional Visitor Center is being provided primarily by the National Park Service, with staff support by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, the Knox County Tourist Commission, the City of Knoxville, and the Department of Energy (DOE) through the American Museum of Science and Energy. Providing technological support are DOE–Oak Ridge Operations, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The new center has three main focus areas: the technological resources of the DOE’s Oak Ridge Complex, the abundant natural resources of the Southern Highlands, and the cultural resources available in Knoxville and the surrounding region. Exhibits in the “Technology Garden” showcase techology successes in the areas of energy, manufacturing, life sciences, and the environment and illustrate their contributions to the quality of life. Private industries that have benefitted from use of DOE technologies are also showcased. Participation in this project is a unique chance to help make DOE resources better known and to help stimulate wider use and commercialization of available DOE technologies by regional businesses and entrepreneurs.

The architect also is very proud of the facility design, as indicated by the photos and descriptive text at http://www.jainc.com/gateway.asp. Cool

So why I am writing about this? Because of the news (buried in this news article and a WBIR-TV video news piece) that the Gateway Visitor Center is no longer operating (the doors are locked Shocked ) because the Knoxville Sports and Tourism Corporation that operated it (what happened to the regional consortium?) has established a new visitor center on Gay Street. The new visitor center sounds like a great thing for Knoxville Cool-Red , and it's definitely easier for visitors and residents to find and get to than the Gateway facility at Volunteer Landing. Oops However, it bugs me that a new facility that was new and innovative just 5 years ago -- and that was built with public resources that are supposed to benefit the entire region -- has been tossed aside like yesterday's newspaper, in favor of a new visitor center focused solely on the city of Knoxville.

Oak Ridge is part of the Knoxville metro area, and the City cannot isolate itself from the rest of the area. However, if this is what results from attempts at regional cooperation with Knoxville, I fear that we don't have much incentive to even try to cooperate in the future. Confused I'm disappointed...

PS - It appears that the Gateway Visitor Center will not stay locked up for long. Smile The WBIR news story tells of tentative plans to give the building to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center to display some of its collection of African-American history. That's pretty different from the innovative regional tourism facility that was envisioned just a few years ago, but at least the building would be put to a good use. Neutral
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