Mecosta County Area chamber and visitors bureau plan for move down State Street

WELCOME HOME: A new welcome center housing the offices of the Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau will be constructed on the site of the former location of Twice is Nice Resale and Consignment Shop at 127 South State Street in Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

WELCOME HOME: A new welcome center housing the offices of the Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau will be constructed on the site of the former location of Twice is Nice Resale and Consignment Shop at 127 South State Street in Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Adam Gac)

BIG RAPIDS — Visitors to Big Rapids, including parents of Ferris State University students, outdoor recreation lovers and business owners interested in the area will be stopping by a new welcome center by next spring.

The Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased the former location of Twice is Nice Resale and Consignment shop at 127 South State Street and may have a new welcome center finished as soon as Christmas. It’s more likely that the two organizations will move in next spring, though, according to chamber Executive Director Jennifer Heinzman.

“This has been in the works for about 30 years,” she said. “People have been talking about a change for 30 years because this place is too small, the location is not great and the parking lot is not big enough. There’s a whole list of reasons why the chamber needs to relocate.”

The need for a new location became the focus for the chamber after a strategic planning survey three years ago indicated the current location is the biggest fault in chamber operations.

“The survey came back and location was the No. 1 worst thing about the chamber,” Heinzman said. “We delved into it and reached out and found people seriously think this location is horrible – so we made a new location our top priority.”

The chamber and the visitors bureau purchased the property on State Street for $170,000 and will construct a new building for $530,000, for a total project cost of $700,000, Heinzman said. The chamber will begin a capital campaign in the next few weeks, has been applying for grants and will  finance whatever remains through a local bank, she added.

Leaders from both organizations worked with Ferris students to draw up some initial designs for the new building. The building will be divided in half, with one side for the chamber and one for the visitors bureau. The current design calls for a modern industrial style with some dedicated green space to reflect the pioneer history in the area.

“We want to pay homage to our history with the logging and the dam, bringing the outdoors in kind of thing,” she said.

The new building will be a way for the two organizations to put their best foot forward when interacting with visitors and potential investors, Heinzman said.

“When developers come to the community and want to move their business here or if people want to move their families here, the current building is not putting our best foot forward,” she said. “We want to be a face of opportunity, growth and innovation. It’ll be better for everyone if we are in a place that we are proud of and the community is proud of.”

Connie Koepke, executive director of the visitors bureau, also is excited for the move.

“We’re cramped down here,” she said. “From the bureau’s point of view, we are going to have a welcome center. When you walk in we are going to have printed brochures, an electronic kiosk with information and somebody there to help people who are new to the area or parents visiting their students at Ferris.

“(In our current location) it’s tough to sit down with somebody and open up a map to show them where things are – there’s just not enough space here.”

When the chamber and the visitors bureau do make the move to their new location, ownership of the current location will revert back to the city of Big Rapids, which owns the park property where the building stands.  There are currently no plans for the property, but the city commission will address the issue as soon as the two agencies move out and submit letters notifying the city of the vacancy, according to City Manager Steve Sobers.

“There would probably be some receptivity to redevelopment for business purposes,” he said.  “But they have to leave first and write us a letter saying, ‘We’re vacating,’ to trigger the 40-year lease we had that reverts the building to the city.”

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Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at agac@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

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