Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Although tourism is Del Norte's largest private sector employer, many think it could be much stronger.

Various organizations hope to boost tourism with a new multi-agency visitor center on the highway by Crescent City Harbor.

"I really believe that this community is in need of the tourism dollars that we ... somehow are not able to capture," said Harbor Commissioner Wes White on Tuesday when the commission heard an update on the visitor center project.

Fourteen agencies have signed on to be a part of the Interagency Visitor Center, which would be built on harbor land between the inner boat basin and U.S. Highway 101.

The idea is to have a one-stop shop for tourism information right

off the highway, encouraging more enjoyable and longer visits to Del


An existing information center on the first floor of the Redwood

National and State Parks headquarters in downtown Crescent City wasn't

designed to be a visitor center, parks officials said.

"Even though we're only a block off the highway, I think a lot of

people don't stop by our visitor center or the Chamber of Commerce"

visitor center on Front Street, said Candace Tinkler of RNSP. Currently

visitor centers in the county attract 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a year.

A design has not been finalized, but thanks to the Interagency

Visitor Center's design committee and pro-bono work from Hilary Baker

of Crow/Clay and Associates architecture, there is a working design


The proposed two-story facility would contain 13,000-15,000 square

feet of space and link the county's natural and cultural resources

together with a "watershed" theme. Most of the facility would be

dedicated to displays and interpretative information about the county's

natural and cultural resources.

A 120-seat auditorium has also been proposed to show films and

presentations on what Del Norte has to offer. The design concept also

calls for a gift shop, conference center, restrooms and some office


The facility would be designed to easily accommodate tour buses and


The IAVC Design Committee is looking at a $7 million to 9 million

price tag to build the center, but Redwood National Park has agreed to

fund the daily operation and maintenance of the center - a significant

benefit for landing grants the project needs to get off the ground and

for its future viability, planners said.

"It amounts to a lot of money over the life of a building," said

Grant Werschkull, who was hired to facilitate meetings between the IAVC


On Tuesday, harbor commissioners questioned the projected expense of

building the facility, with costs estimated at $500 to 600 a square


Werschkull said he is optimistic about fundraising, especially with

14 agencies on board.

"This is not an ordinary county with ordinary resources," Werschkull

said. "It's an extraordinary county in terms of natural resources and

cultural heritage, and I think we'll be very competitive" in landing


Harbor planner Ernie Perry, who is on the design committee of the

project, told harbor commissioners the building needs to draw people off

the highway. Now is not the time to look at scaling back the project,

he said, adding that can be done later if necessary.

"There's a reason why Trees of Mystery has Paul Bunyan and Babe the

Blue Ox along the highway," Perry said. "It works pretty good at pulling

people off the road."

Commissioner White said his hesitation on price came from the fact

that he wants to see the project come to fruition.

"I'd rather have something there that is not quite as nice but is

real, rather than something that is a dream and stays a nightmare,"

White said.

Werschkull said that the current cost figure hasn't scared potential

grant providers in his initial talks, and they will recognize the

importance such a center could have for the community.

"This is the type of facility that matches the base of our economy,"

Werschkull said. "It's our future."

Redwood National Park, Smith River Alliance and the harbor district

have provided the funding to date for planning and design.

The project is still in its early stages, with the next steps being a

finalized design, completing environmental compliance requirements, and

forging a memorandum of understanding that lays out the roles and level

of involvement of each agency.

Werschkull said he hopes the facility will be up and running by 2016,

the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Harbor officials

hope it will be sooner to show off their new inner boat basin slated to

be complete in 2013.

Organizations on board include the California Coastal National

Monument of the Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish

and Game's local wildlife areas, Redwood Coast Sector of California

Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Crescent City, Crescent

City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, Crescent City Harbor

District, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, Elk Valley Rancheria

Tribal Council, Redwood National Park of the National Park Service,

Smith River Rancheria, Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority, Castle

Rock National Wildlife Refuge of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

Smith River National Recreation Area of the U.S. Forest Service and the

Yurok Tribal Council.

Reach Adam Spencer at