The Centre County Visitor Center and the offices of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau are moving next week from their longtime home near Beaver Stadium, the county’s tourism promotion agency announced on Monday.
Beginning May 11, the Visitor Center will be located at the base of the Fraser Street Parking Garage in downtown State College, in offices next to the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County. The bureau’s administrative offices also will be located in the same building.
The HVAB Board of Directors approved the move at its meeting in March.
“As the Adventure Bureau itself works through recovery, the board and staff feel strongly that the best use of resources at this time is fostering recovery of the hospitality industry and the business community through a focused investment in destination marketing,” HVAB President and CEO Fritz Smith said in a statement.
HVAB had leased the Visitor Center building at 800 E. Park Ave. from Penn State. The decision to move was based on the overall costs of operating the center at a time when revenues are constrained and a determination on how to best allocate resources, HVAB public affairs director Lesley Kistner wrote in an email.
The new location will save the bureau about $80,000 a year.
Kistner added that discussions have been ongoing for the past year and that “PSU was very understanding and flexible throughout the process.”
A Penn State spokesperson has not yet responded to a request for comment about the university’s plans for the Park Avenue building.
Smith said that with more of the population getting vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions being eased, “people are starting to act on an extreme pent up interest in travel.”
Competition for tourism dollars is expected to be “fierce,” he said.
“We are already seeing a considerable marketing push from other regions and states,” Smith said. “We have to make sure that awareness about Happy Valley as a safe, affordable and family friendly destination stands out in a crowded marketplace, and that means fully allocating limited resources where they are most needed right now. In the age of consumers’ growing reliance on technology, maintaining a large physical presence is not where our focus needs to be.”
In 2019, 66% of the 55,808 people who entered the Visitor Center did so during Penn State football’s eight home game weekends.
“We feel a downtown State College location will meet the needs of those in Happy Valley for Penn State-related reasons, while we work to enhance services throughout Happy Valley to further grow visitation,” Smith said.
Youth sports is one area expected to boost tourism locally, and “is already having a positive impact on weekend hotel occupancy rates in what have historically been ‘need’ months for visitation,” Smith said, adding that the market is a priority for the bureau going forward.
HVAB is considering new satellite visitor centers at different entry points to the county, in addition to the existing satellite visitor center at the train station in Bellefonte’s Talleyrand Park.
Current highway signage for the Visitor Center will be relocated to direct travelers to the downtown location and additional signage will be placed to increase awareness of the Bellefonte center.
The lease on the Fraser Street office lasts through 2023 and HVAB will reevaluate the location at that time.
“This past year has forced many businesses to rethink how they operate,” Smith said. “As much as the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, there have been many positive lessons learned. We need to be nimble in our efforts throughout Happy Valley. This move is a starting point.”
“The Board believes this is the right move for the long-term success of the local economy and the organization,” HVAB Board Chairman Edward Tubbs said. “From a public point of view, it’s certainly a big change, but internally, it is one that will set the stage for even greater things in the future.”