June 19, 2017 11:48 PM
We are heading directly into the busy summer tourism season and that might mean you'll be traveling down the Thruway to go on vacation. If you head to Albany, you can now stop at a brand new welcome center -- a project that cost New York taxpayers $12 million.
For months, we've been following the money trail along the New York State Thruway to see how your tax dollars have been spent to create the Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron and the "Taste New York" rest stop in Fultonville -- about 45 miles from Albany. Last July, crews held the first ribbon-cutting for that facility. But, just this past March, $4.5 million of renovations were started and the state re-branded it as the "Mohawk Valley Welcome Center."
The same thing happened at the Port Byron stop too. Eight months after opening, construction workers were ripping up sidewalks, railings and porches.
Speaking about the Fultonville stop, Acting Thruway Authority Director Bill Finch said, "We really greened up the facility, made it much more modern and added more interactive so people can come here and realize the incredible importance of the Mohawk Valley."
He was asked why a brand new building needed to go through demolition and re-construction eight months after opening. He says the facility can now be used year round. They added a playground, a walking trail, electric vehicle charging stations, interactive panels to showcase state history and a selfie wall.
Finch says, "Remember this is a $100 billion industry with almost a million New Yorkers getting their livelihood from this. So this is a strategic investment and the more we can promote tourism -- which the original facility didn't really do -- this is to promote tourism."
The original building allowed vendors to sell New York products -- that will continue but apparently. The state wanted to replicate the expansive welcome center that opened on Long Island in October.
"So what we learned in Long Island was that we can create more jobs by promoting tourism by creating welcome centers," says Finch. "And this transition, we re-used much of it and we were able to augment it, so that we can help create jobs in the Mohawk Valley -- that's the bottom line."
But wouldn't it have been cheaper just to make the original building a welcome center and not go through two construction projects within a year?
The acting director said he didn't have an answer for that hypothetical, but Thruway officials told Senator Rich Funke, head of the Senate Tourism Committee, who's been pressing for an explanation, that to reach state tourism goals it was cheaper to utilize existing facilities rather than build from ground up.
So despite a winter of turmoil, both new rest areas -- one in the Mohawk Valley and in Port Byron, just 60 miles outside of Monroe County -- are now open and ready for visitors.
Updated: June 19, 2017 11:48 PM
Created: June 19, 2017 08:37 PM
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