Tourism Director Eugene “Doc” Householder recently announced that the tourism board had agreed to take over the management of the I-70 West Tourist Center. Householder made the announcement during his quarterly report to Belmont County Commissioners at their Wednesday, Feb. 20 meeting. Householder said the Ohio Department of Transportation was closing all 32 centers in the state and were giving local governments and tourism agencies the opportunity to take over their management. He said the move will save the state $2 million. Householder said he met with representatives of ODOT six months ago, but the operation of the center will not change hands for another two or three months.
Householder told commissioners that the cost would be covered by a 3 percent motel bed tax paid by travelers throughout the county. Householder said that while tourism in the county was down over last year, the bed tax collection is up. He attributed the decrease in tourism to gas prices and the economy. The increase in bed tax receipts is directly attributable to oil and gas workers staying in local motels and hotels. Householder said the tax is paid by hotel and motel owners to the county auditor’s office.
He said all motels and hotels in the county are full. Two new establishments being built in the St. Clairsville area will increase the number of beds to 150.
Commissioners voiced concerns about the effect the new venture would have upon the other projects funded by the tourism council. The commissioners said they did not agree with the board’s decision and did not feel it was a “productive use of the bed tax.” Commissioner Ginny Favede also noted that the Belmont County Tourism Council was the only one taking over operation of a tourism center. She said the centers were not being closed, but shifted to an automated media system.
In defense of the decision, Householder said that the county’s primary tourism attractions are located near the I-70 West Tourist Center in the Barnesville area.
“This a golden opportunity to increase business to those attractions,” Householder said Monday, adding that he could not believe other counties did not take advantage of the state’s offer.
He said an automated system would still require funding to keep it stocked with brochures and tourist information. He said only utilities will need to be paid on the rent-free space.
Householder said he has made an offer to retain a 24-year employee of the tourist center and will be hiring a few other people to operate it. Householder is also looking for volunteers to run the center a few days a week. Those interested may contact him at the tourism office in the Ohio Valley Mall.
Householder said the seven-member tourism board meets each month. They approved the office’s annual budget last week.