Explore Lawrence to move visitor center downtown; will leave historic North Lawrence depot
photo by: Dylan Lysen
To serve the visitors of Lawrence, Explore Lawrence needs to move its visitor information center to where they are, said Michael Davidson, executive director of the organization.
The organization is in the final stages of working out an agreement to move its visitor center to 812 Massachusetts St., which formerly housed Juice Stop, early next year. The move is only a few blocks, but it will put the organization in the middle of downtown Lawrence — a tourism hub for the city.
“We want to provide a service to visitors, so we need to be where the visitors are,” Davidson said.
That will mean moving the visitor center out of its current location in the historic Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence.
The center aims to provide information about the city of Lawrence and its local entertainment, food and activity options, among other things, to those who are visiting the area.
The move could also allow for the center to better serve local entertainment venues by becoming a ticket hub and helping visitors better plan their time in town with interactive displays.
The organization expects to take over the lease Jan. 1 and will redesign the space. It plans to open the new visitor information center sometime between January and March.
For the redesign, the organization is reaching out to other visitor and convention bureaus to see how they design their offices to best serve others. The redesign may also allow for other organizations to use the location as well.
“We just want to design a really cool space,” Davidson said.
photo by: Chris Conde
Currently, the visitor center is located at the city-owned Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St. Davidson said the move will help increase foot traffic to its offices, which in turn means the visitors will be better served.
“Even though the space is really good at the depot, it’s just not getting enough traffic,” Davidson said, noting that the current center records about 10 visitors a day. “If we’re downtown, we expect to quadruple that number a day.”
Explore Lawrence’s staff offices will continue to be housed at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.
To make the move, the organization will be taking on more costs in rent and utilities. Davidson said the organizations budgeted about $40,000 a year for the costs. Currently, the city provides the depot space free of charge.
“It’s the cost of doing the business we want to do,” Davidson said.
Explore Lawrence’s funding largely comes from the city’s transient guest tax, which are funds collected from guests at local hotels and designated to promote tourism.
How the city will repurpose the space in the depot will be discussed over the next few months, said Roger Steinbrock, marketing supervisor for the City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.
The depot was a major historic preservation project that rallied the community in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Community members and City Hall officials banded together to stop the depot from being demolished. The city took ownership in the early 1990s and completed a major renovation of the building in 1996.
photo by: Chris Conde
Explore Lawrence has been using the depot location for the visitor center for more than 20 years now, but its move away from the facility likely won’t make much of a difference for the city, he said.
The only immediate issue that would arise is staffing. Explore Lawrence’s visitor center staff would work and operate the building when people reserved the open parts of the building for events.
“Right now it’s not going to be that big of an impact for us,” he said. “We’re going to have to staff it if there are events there, but that’s part-time help. Most of the time we’re staffing it anyway.”
Other than that, the city won’t be losing out on any revenue because the visitor center was not paying rent and the reservations likely won’t be affected by the move. The community room in the facility registered 333 reservations in 2017.
Steinbrock said the city brought in revenue of $40,000 last year from the reservations for classes, events and wedding receptions held at the depot.
“I don’t see that changing,” Steinbrock said.
photo by: Chris Conde