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Posted March 22, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Strasburg eyes new site for visitor center

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg may consider moving its visitor center to a more visible site on U.S. 11.

The Gateway to Shenandoah Visitor Center currently operates at Hupp's Hill Civil War Park off U.S. 11 north of town. Strasburg partnered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation to open the center in the park in late August 2011. The center has hosted 6,588 visitors, according to a recent report.

Now town officials and the local Chamber of Commerce renewed the possibility of moving the center to a former sales office on U.S. 11 across from Radio Station Road, farther north of town.

The Town Council Infrastructure Committee, which meets at 5 p.m. Monday, plans to continue its discussion of the potential move.

Town Manager Judson Rex explained Friday that the house at the corner of Radio Station Road and U.S. 11 is available for lease. The town looked at this site as a possible location for the visitor's center years ago, but instead pursued Hupp's Hill.

"Since its visibility and location relative to the I-81 interchange is better than Hupp's Hill, we believe it is worth consideration," Rex stated in an email. "Also, the Chamber of Commerce has expressed an interested in partnering with the Town to fund and operate at the Route 11/Radio Station Road location.

"The layout of the house as a former sales center really lends itself to a visitor center," Rex continues in the email. "There is additional office space on the second floor that would accommodate the Chamber of Commerce and, possibly, the Town's economic development manager."

Supporters of the current location have said the center helps direct visitors to downtown and the Strasburg Museum. Contacted by phone Friday, John Adamson, the museum board's vice president, said he had not yet heard of the possible relocation of the center. The museum has seen a connection between the center and its increasing number of visitors often referred to the downtown attraction, according to Adamson.

"I guess it makes some sense logically that the closer the center is to the museum, the more convenient it is for visitors, and so perhaps nearby is better than further away," Adamson said. "But the fact that they're both in Strasburg is probably most important."

Adamson credited the center's staff for giving visitors information that leads them to the museum.

Statistics provided by town clerk Amy Keller show that visitation has increased since the center opened. The center saw 218 visitors in January 2013 compared with 200 the same month last year. The center saw 216 visitors in February compared to 156 the same month last year.

While the town does not pay rent for the space at Hupp's Hill, it must maintain the grounds and cover some of the costs for the utilities, according to Rex. This indirectly costs the town approximately $6,000 per year, Rex said.

The town would have to pay rent for the Radio Station Road site, but the Chamber would forfeit its annual donation to help offset the cost, according to Rex. Hometown Strasburg also has indicated it would help fund the new site, Rex added.

At a previous meeting, at which Town Council spoke briefly about the issue, several residents voiced support for keeping the visitor center at its current location. Supporters of the Strasburg Museum also claimed that the current location lends itself to drawing visitors to the downtown attraction.

Whether any move would affect the center's relationship with the Foundation remains uncertain and the discussions have not touched on that issue, Rex said.

"Whatever happens with the visitor center, we want to maintain our positive relationship with Cedar Creek," he said. "The Town values its relationship with CCBF and believes that our partnership has helped preserve Hupp's Hill as a natural and cultural resource."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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