Playing Tourist Close to Home

Where can you find a Columbia bicycle hanging from the ceiling?  Along with giant letters from a scrabble game, theater costumes, and rifles?

Where can you get details on a trip to Egypt?  Or a guidebook to Western Massachusetts?

Hint.  The Commonwealth came up with the money, but most of the folks that use it come from outside the Pioneer Valley.

Answer.  It's the all new, glass enclosed, multi-million dollar, official

Visitors Center in Springfield, operated by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. Area legislators got a sneak preview before it opened last month.

Architecturally, the building is interesting. Open space, lots of glass, very simple. My only criticism is that it isn’t easy to access unless you’re southbound on Columbus Avenue. And, unfortunately, there’s not much information about Westfield.

However. Using the theme "More to Explore," the center is full of pamphlets and guides to area attractions.  (Full disclosure:  sites that want to be included have to pay a fee to have their literature stocked on the shelves.)

It's worth a visit even if you're not from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Boston or the Cape.

It will give you plenty of ways to enjoy our area, from Yankee Candle to Six Flags, the Basketball Hall of Fame to Old Sturbridge Village, the Quadrangle to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory.

They even toss in information about this month's Big E, the Paradise City Arts Festival next month, and Bright Nights for the holiday season.

Hungry?  Grab a quick, and affordable, snack from the concession operated by Red Rose Pizzeria.  (No pizza, though.)

Then, take some folders for ideas, get the latest calendar of events, and head out to antique shops, our town greens, area restaurants and a variety of our historical, cultural and scenic areas.

You might visit the Springfield Armory National Historic Site on the STCC campus to see armaments from our nation’s first wars. See the birds and beasts at the Zoo at Forest Park. If you call ahead, you can get a tour of Smith and Wesson. Or make reservations to ride the Tinker Belle up and down the Connecticut River. Tour the Indian Motocycle (yes, motocycle–no "r") Museum or even the tiny Titanic Museum in the back of a jewelry store. All the details are in the Visitors Center. I’ll stop. The possibilities are endless.

The whole goal is to attract tourists and conventions.  Because, tourism means money.

According to GSCVB, more than 4,500 people work in the Pioneer Valley's visitor industry.  Payroll: $101-million.  Those dollars brought in more than $436-million tourist dollars in the three county area since 1999. 

In turn, the money spent by tourists here generated more than $23.5-million in state taxes and $8.9-million in local taxes.

It's estimated that 1.6-million visitors travel to the three county area annually.  Each one spends an average of $225 a day.  That's $350-million a year. 

Two thirds of them stay over night.

Want more?  Stop by on the riverfront at 1200 West Columbus Avenue or visit valleyvisitor.com.

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