State budget cuts fall on welcome centersAlthough details are still sketchy, it is apparent that the state tourism welcome center in Hudson will no longer be staffed after April 11. Eliminating staff positions at Wisconsin’s eight welcome centers throughout the state is one of many moves the state will make as it responds to the economic crisis.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
Although details are still sketchy, it is apparent that the state tourism welcome center in Hudson will no longer be staffed after April 11.
Eliminating staff positions at Wisconsin’s eight welcome centers throughout the state is one of many moves the state will make as it responds to the economic crisis.
Mark Richardson, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, said the department had to cut its budget by $1.7 million. Removing staff from the centers will save about $1.2 million. He called the changes “a new business model.”
He said it is hoped that most of the centers will remain open for motorists to use restrooms and pick up travel information, but they will not be staffed.
“Whether or not a center is closed will be a decision made by the Department of Transportation,” Richardson said. “They own the buildings.”
When asked about Hudson specifically, he could not predict if the welcome center would remain open, but did acknowledge that Hudson’s center is in a unique location not conducive to high motor traffic. Some who are familiar with the situation believe the Hudson welcome center is destined to close.
In fact, the Hudson center was slated to close several years ago, but survived a cut at that time. Most welcome centers have direct access off of freeways or major roads. The Hudson center requires that motorists exit the freeway and travel on city streets to reach the center – a change that occurred when freeway improvements were made, and the Carmichael Road exit was added, for the dog track in the early 1990s.
Sonya Johnson, local visitor center director, said the Hudson welcome center attracted about 35,000 vehicles last year. In the late 1980s before the access was changed, the Hudson center drew about 60,000 cars per year – that at a time when there was less overall traffic than today.
Johnson, who has been at the center since 1995, and Sue Steele (since 1986) will lose their jobs as of April 11. The center also has had three part-time employees during the summer.
“We’re sorry to lose our jobs, but at least we know we performed our duties well,” Johnson said.
About 43 full- and part-time employees will lose their jobs across the state.
The fate of the Hudson center, and others statewide, will be determined in meetings in the next few weeks.
“We have met or will be meeting with tourism partners (such as Chamber of Commerce) in all the affected cities,” Richardson said. “We are hoping they can help us keep a presence in all the affected cities, but those will all be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau President Kim Heinemann said her staff will meet with Department of Tourism officials sometime in early March.
“Since the state is not offering any funds, this could be a financially tough situation in many ways,” Heinemann said. “But we are looking forward to the meeting to see what the state has in mind for a partnership. Obviously we’re very interested in promoting tourism.”
She said she will invite the mayor, Chamber board and local tourism people to attend the meeting with state tourism officials.