Beaumont, Texas, Officials Try to Lure Tourists

By Angela Macias, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 15--For many travelers speeding down Interstate 10, Beaumont is a minor landmark or brief pit stop between home and a final destination.

But city officials hope to turn a tourist's rest stop into an overnight stay, as well as bring larger groups for meetings and conventions with a new visitors' center just off Interstate 10.

"Most people see what they see off Interstate 10 and that only," said City Manager Kyle Hayes. "I think we have a lot to offer."

The proposed visitor center site on the right side of Willow Street at Calder Avenue would be right off the highway, near downtown's museums and entertainment venues, he said.

Potential to draw more tourism dollars exists, but promoting the city is tough in the bureau's present leased location at City Hall, said Dean Conwell, the Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director.

City Hall is open during the day Monday through Friday. With a new center, staff could be available on Saturday, and plans include a lobby filled with travel information for access anytime.

"Tourists are not 8-to-5 people," Conwell said. "Sometimes they are 24 hours a day, and they need this information if we are going to sell the city properly.

"It's just as much an office environment as it will be a visitor greeting station," Conwell said.

While there isn't yet a firm design for the center, an open-air patio and a welcoming area are part of the initial plans, he said.

Space for a conference room, storage area and offices for salespeople bringing conventions and groups to the area also will also be part of the design, he said.

Last year, 122 conventions, with 53,000 attending, came to Beaumont, Conwell said. More than $1.6 million in hotel occupancy tax was collected in the city's 2003 fiscal year.

An environmental study is being completed on the land, and bids are being solicited for an architectural firm to design the building.

An estimated $1.1 million will be spent on the project, with $900,000 allocated from the city's 2003 Capital Improvement Program and a request for $200,000 more this year. Repayment of that total will come from hotel occupancy tax collections.

Construction on the project could begin in January 2005.

Several miles away, a regional visitors' center is planned at Ford Park.

But Conwell said the city's center would differ in that it will not be focused strictly on the leisure traveler, but on bringing groups to the area.

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