City offers Cultural Center in case highway site fizzles

Harbor district officials obtained support from the Crescent City Council on Monday to list the city's Cultural Center as an alternate site for a proposed multi-agency visitors center.

The City Council unanimously voted to submit a letter of support for the project, which involves 14 public agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Redwood National and State Parks and the local tribes.

The Council also agreed to submit a second, more formal letter offering the Cultural Center as a viable alternative site for the new visitors center, currently proposed for U.S. Highway 101 near the harbor. Councilwoman Kelly Schellong, who made the motion, added that if using the Cultural Center for the visitors center became necessary, the issue should come back before the Council for public input.

The city's two letters will be included in the conceptual designs and preliminary environmental report for the project, according to Harbormaster Richard Young. The letters of support would also be used to obtain funding for the project, he said.

The project has already garnered letters of support from the county, the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce and the Harbor District.

"There was a request for alternatives that went out and the Cultural Center is the only one I'm aware of that's been offered," Young said. "Requests went to the fairgrounds, and the Fair Board decided not to offer the fairgrounds. No one else stepped up with an alternative."

The construction cost for the proposed facility is estimated at $7 million to $9 million. Redwood National Park would pay for the operation and maintenance of the facility.

According to Ernie Perry, the harbor's planning manager, the only way the national park can operate and maintain the visitors center is if it owns the building. The Harbor District would likely grant the land to the Park Service. If another location was chosen for the visitors center, that arrangement would be up to the agency that owned the property, he said.

The current design calls for the building to be two stories tall to accommodate interpretive displays, Perry said. It might incorporate video, lights and a wall map to guide people to various attractions.

Right now, he said, "There really is no one location you can go to understand what is available in this county. If you stop at one agency you may get information that agency has, but you don't necessarily get information (about) other agencies."

Public review for the visitor center's preliminary environmental analysis ended Dec. 2, Perry said. A comment from Caltrans was included stating that the visitors center may require installing a traffic signal at Citizens Dock Road and Highway 101 due to a potential increase in traffic, he said.

It currently costs the city more to operate and maintain the Cultural Center than it brings in each year, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo. When the location was considered for an interagency visitors center 20 years ago, its location off Highway 101 was a drawback, but Palazzo said signage could point people in the right direction.

Since Redwood National and State Parks' visitors center is near the Cultural Center, people are familiar with the area, Palazzo said.

"I think you're probably looking at a donation of the building to these 13 agencies or whoever's involved with creating this interagency center and having them operate it as such," he said. "It's an alternative site and there's going to be details we have to go through to make that happen. Leasing it or selling it, I think, loses its appeal."

Schellong said she felt the public should be heard from if it appears the Cultural Center will become the site for the interagency visitors center.

"I would think that we would have to do a public hearing before we could make that kind of a decision," she said.

Perry said as long as the city makes the offer of the Cultural Center as a viable alternative, the details could be ironed out later.

"It's not just a question of the building, it's a question of parking, it's a question of circulation," he said. "You don't know how that's going to play out."

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