New Visitor Center set to open next spring
By Madison Brown
Fredericksburg’s new Visitor Center in the Executive Plaza at 601 Caroline Street is on track to open in June of next year, according to Bill Freehling, the city’s director of economic development and tourism (EDT). The new space is about three times the size of the current Visitor Center at 706 Caroline Street and is intended to be a community gathering place in addition to an informational site.
The idea to move the Visitor Center and Economic Development and Tourism offices to a “more corporate environment” in the Executive Plaza dates at least as far back as Fredericksburg’s 2017 Economic Development Strategy Plan.
“The current Visitor Center has served us well for 50 years, and I certainly don’t want to say anything negative about the current Visitor Center–it’s great in a lot of ways,” Freehling said. “But [the new space is] fully ADA-compliant. In the current Visitor Center, with a wheelchair, there’s no way to get in the front of the building.” Convenient parking and bathrooms will also be advantages of the new space, according to an August 2022 memo to City Council.
Freehling also said that the new building will be a better use of money.
“All old buildings are not inexpensive to run and maintain,” he said. “We had a large, very suitable space where we could put the Visitor Center just down the street, and it was empty, so we thought it was being good stewards of taxpayer dollars to use that space and move [the current building] to the private sector.” The old building will generate tax dollars once privately owned, and Freehling expects the costs of maintenance will go down with the move.
Renderings of the new space show the City’s plans for modern user interfaces, an exhibit room, conferences, and an outdoor terrace.
“We want to have functions there, we want to have community meetings there,” Freehling said. “The front space with the terraces, the outdoor space, we hope that will be a space where people will come and get food from a restaurant and take it over there to eat, where you can do work and get a cup of coffee; we’re hoping that it’s a real community gathering space in addition to an informational location for visitors.”
Anticipating the move to the Executive Plaza, the City sold 601 Caroline Street to the Economic Development Authority (EDA) last year for $1.26 million. The property is being leased back to the City to use until the Executive Plaza location opens for a base annual rent of $116,321.00.
“[EDA] was a guaranteed buyer for the city,” Freehling said. “We had it appraised and the EDA paid the appraised value, so the City has no risk associated with taking it to market. Then the city felt that the EDA was the appropriate entity to move it to the private sector and make decisions on what private buyer would be the best steward of the property.”
The new Visitor Center will co-locate with Fredericksburg Main Street, part of a national nonprofit that seeks to promote economic development in historic commercial districts. EDT offices, currently found in the second and third floor of 601 Caroline, will move to the third floor of the Executive Plaza.
Otter statues planned for Visitor Center terrace.