The 5 “W’s” of the Durango Welcome Center

Thursday, April 27, 2017 10:56 PM

Who: The Durango Welcome Center is home to the Visitor Information Desk, the Durango Area Tourism Office, the Community Concert Hall ticket operation and the Fort Lewis College student recruitment and alumni center. The DWC offers public restrooms, ATM, wifi, water and a staff of knowledgeable friendly people.

What: The Durango Welcome Center is the community’s “welcome mat” for visitors, new residents and long-time locals. It was built and funded in 2011 by the collaborative effort of the City of Durango, Fort Lewis College and the Business Improvement District. The city holds the master lease with the building owner and sub-leases to the occupants who split the rent. The anchor tenant is the Durango Area Tourism Office which agreed to re-locate to the new Welcome Center from its long-time shared home at the Chamber of Commerce building at Santa Rita Park.

Where: The Welcome Center is located on the southeast corner of Main Avenue and 8th Street in the heart of Durango’s historic downtown. After a year-long search, the location was selected for its mid-town Main Avenue corner location, signalized intersection, proximity to the Transit Center and Post Office and 8th Street connection to the college. The timing was ideal as the owner of the existing business was contemplating selling and retiring. The 100 year-old building was gutted and construction was completed in less than six months.

When: The Welcome Center softly-opened in spring of 2012, with a grand opening celebration in June. The first year, more than 100,000 people passed through the doors and in 2016, surpassed 120,000 visitors. This summer will mark its fifth anniversary, and the center will record its 500,000th visitor.

Why: The Welcome Center was a collaborative solution to a number of unique challenges faced by the city, college and BID. The price of leasing downtown space in high-profile locations prohibited all parties from operating their own separate facilities. The city acknowledged the need for more public restroom facilities that were convenient to Main Avenue tourists and were ADA accessible, but cost and facility management issues were probl ematic. The BID wanted to do more to promote downtown businesses and experimented with a stand-alone kiosk on Main. Limited operating hours, seasonality, and labor cost made the project difficult to justify. The concert hall operated an off-Main ticket sales office which served mainly locals. But being located on the hill above downtown, FLC lacked a downtown presence to promote the college to the hundreds of thousands of prospective students and their families visiting Durango each year.

A shared-space, shared-cost concept was introduced to all parties that immediately saw the many positives in collaborating on a single location, multi-purpose facility. The project also opened up the opportunity for the Tourism Office to move into the heart of the tourism zone. Providing more and better information to destination visitors increases engagement with local retailers and businesses. In fact, State of Colorado research shows that travelers that stop at a Visitor Center stay longer and spend more. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.