Friday, March 6, 2009

New visitor center opens up shop

Former bank will house three nonprofit organizations

Express Staff Writer

John Haselden, one of 20 members of the visiting Atlanta Ski Club, gets help from Visitor Information Center employee Gina Bennett on Wednesday. The new center, which opened to the public on Saturday, will also house the Ketchum Community Development Corp. and Mountain Rides. Photo by David N. Seelig

Tourists in Ketchum no longer have to hunt for help, as the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau opened up its new Visitor Information Center on Sun Valley Road to the public on Saturday.

The new center, housed in the former Mountain West Bank building on the corner of Sun Valley Road and East Avenue, replaces the location on the ground floor of the Copper Ridge building, on Washington Avenue.

The information center is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"This location is much more accessible and easier for visitors to find," Chamber Executive Director Carol Waller said.

Along with the chamber's administrative offices and visitor's center, the building will house two other nonprofit organizations, the Ketchum Community Development Corp. and Mountain Rides Transportation Authority.

Waller said the three agencies will save a combined $100,000 per year in rent by moving into the new location.

The city made it possible to bring the three organizations into one site by purchasing the building from Mountain West Bank in 2007 for $3.2 million. Mountain West relocated last year to a newly constructed building on the corner of Sun Valley Road and Leadville Avenue.

The purchase was set in motion over five years ago when the city traded a property at Fourth and Main streets—which had been the site of a former city hall—to Wells Fargo Bank for the park property now at the corner of East Avenue and Fourth Street. Negotiations with Mountain West began under former Mayor Ed Simon's administration and were completed by Mayor Randy Hall.

The sale and trade helped achieve part of the Downtown Master Plan, which called for a town plaza on East Avenue from the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor to Sun Valley Road as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization.

Waller emphasized the help received by local businesses to transform the building from a bank into an attractive visitors center. That included donated designs from Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Michael Doty's Ketchum-based architectural firm, and pro-bono project management from Steve Kearns, of Kearns, McGinnis & Vandenberg Construction. Dale Bates, chairman of the Ketchum CDC's Town Design Team, is donating his time to design signs for the exterior of the building.

In addition, Waller said the entire project was done with an effort to recycle and save money. To that end, the center is reusing much of the office furniture donated by Mountain West Bank. Many other interior components, such as doors, windows and sinks, were bought at the Wood River Land Trust's Building Materials Thrift Store.

Waller said a lot of visitors have already used the new center, as have local residents looking for information to send to friends and family.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting is scheduled for Thursday, March 12.

Jon Duval:

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