Visitors' center to open soon

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By April Wright, Reporter

The visitors' center in downtown Galax is expected to be complete and open by the end of the year or January, according to Keith Barker, interim city manager.

John Parsons, whose father once operated a law firm there, donated the building to the city about a year ago for the purpose of a visitors' center.

The Parsons building, Barker said, was considered one of the blight problems in the city that needed to be addressed as part of the downtown revitalization. Barker contacted Parsons to discuss the benefits of the project, which provides grants to business owners wishing to beautify storefronts.

Vacant for many years, the building was built by Parsons' father, John Parsons Sr., and served as his law office.

“It meant a lot to him, and he didn't know what to do with it,” Barker told The Gazette previously. “He wanted to find a way that the building could be used and taken care of, possibly by the city.”

Barker, former city manager Keith Holland and Parsons agreed to transform the building into a visitors' center to accommodate tourists.

Construction on the three-floor building — 16,000-square-feet per floor — began in August, said Barker, as he gives a tour.

On the first floor, he shows where a volunteer or part-time help will sit at an information desk. Information kiosks, he said, will allow visitors to find dining, events and attractions in the area, and tourists will be able to access maps. Lining the wall will be brochures and maps, and a couple of flat screen TV monitors will showcase the news and area music and arts.

Chuck Riedhammer, the city's tourism director, will relocate from the Galax Municipal Building to the second-floor office. The basement will be used for storage.

The city had budgeted $150,000 to renovate the building, but with the city doing in-house work to stay under budget, Barker said the cost should fall somewhere around $75,000.

The city sub-contracted for certain projects, including insulation, dry wall, mold and asbestos removal and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“This is a sturdy building with a great sub-frame,” said Barker. “We're spending a little money to fix it up, but we would have had to do that with any building we purchased.”

Barker is unsure how long the building has been unoccupied, but said it has been empty all 17 years he has been with the city.

Barker noted that the visitors' center — located across from the Rex Theater and the Galax Municipal Building, near Chestnut Creek School of the Arts and downtown shops and dining — was at in the perfect spot to help lure tourists to area attractions and destinations.

He said when the center nears completion, he hopes to find volunteers to work the front desk and answer questions about the city.

“Many people help out with the Rex and Chestnut Creek School of the Arts because they're great people and it's something they feel passionately about,” said Barker. “We're hoping to find someone like that, who knows a lot about the city.”

To prepare for opening the center, Riedhammer will soon visit and work at the Hillsville Visitors' Center to see how it operates on a day-to-day basis.

Construction of the visitors' center coincides with the $2.6 million downtown revitalization project to fix up storefronts in the historic shopping district.