The Columbus Area Visitors Center has ended a pilot program that provided a satellite visitors center in Hope.
The satellite center, established in 2015 in a partnership with Heritage of Hope Inc. to boost Hope tourism, was located in the Simpson building on the town square, former home of the Hope Star-Journal. The newspaper was operated by Larry Simpson at that location until his death in September 2014.
Heritage of Hope Inc. received up to $40,000 generated from the county innkeeper’s tax for the satellite tourism office. In exchange, the nonprofit organization agreed to an 18-month pilot program to increase tourism and hotel/motel stays, which began in 2015.
The center was closed at the end of December and an interactive electronic kiosk that was part of the Hope Visitor Information Center was removed from the building, said Karen Niverson, executive director of the Columbus-based tourism group. The iPad that powered the kiosk was kept by the Columbus-based visitors center, but it is unlikely the kiosk will be used at any other location after its removal from Hope, she said.
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“So much of that info is available on anyone’s phone,” Niverson said.
While Hope’s pilot program was considered a good effort, Niverson said visitors center officials felt it would better to explore other ways to develop tourism in the Hope area.
“Our visitors center markets the entire county, including Hope,” Niverson said.
Center staff are now considering various ways to partner with Hope organizations and businesses to provide information and to develop town amenities, she said.
The center’s closing opens up space for a pharmacy to locate in the Simpson building, announced during the Dec. 29 State of the Town meeting by Hope town manager J.T. Doane.
The change will require two other groups that had been based in the building, Heritage of Hope and the Hope Art Guild gallery, to find new spaces, Doane said. The two groups have several options for meeting places, including space at the town hall or the Hope library branch annex, Doane said.
Heritage of Hope had met for 48 years at the town hall before establishing an office at the Simpson building in 2015, said Michael Dean, chief executive officer of the organization.
However, no decision on a permanent meeting place was made during this week’s Heritage of Hope board meeting, Dean said.
After the closing of two different tourism offices — the Hope Welcome Center, operated by the Hope Area Chamber of Commerce, in 2014, and the Hope Visitor Information Center partnership with the Columbus Area Visitors Center, which ended last week — Heritage of Hope has no immediate plans to launch another, Dean said.
Hope Wellness Pharmacy, owned by Panacea Pharmacy Inc., is expecting to open by Feb. 1 in the former tourism building at 645 Harrison St. owned by Ken Patton of Columbus.
The Harry Weese-designed building was constructed in 1958 as a branch office of Irwin Union Bank and Trust. First Financial took over the Hope location when it acquired assets of the failed Columbus-based bank in 2009. The building last operated as a bank in February 2013, after which the newspaper took occupancy.
Doane said despite the end of the tourism pilot program and satellite office, Hope’s efforts to bring in more tourism are vital to Bartholomew County.
Hope brings people to Bartholomew County through events including the Smoke on the Square barbecue event in June, Old Fashioned Independence Day in July, Hope Heritage Days in September, Halloween events in October and December’s Christmas of Yesteryear.
“These events draw a significant number of people to Bartholomew County,” Doane said. “And while they are here, they to go other areas of the county and other businesses.”
Doane said he’s noticed bus tours of seniors coming to Hope to have lunch and explore the town even without a festival or specific event planned, events that were planned by the staff of the Hope Visitors Information Center.
“The focus needs to be on drawing people in to the county,” Doane said.
The pharmacy, too, will be a draw to residents of nearby towns, with people coming to Hope to pick up a prescription, and then perhaps staying for lunch on the square or running some errands in town, he said.
“I want to emphasize the visitors center is doing a lot for tourism for the entire county, and the ripple effect will be there,” he said.