By Joel Hall
After Sunday, June 15, the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCCVB) will close the doors on its Farmers Market Visitors Center, reducing the number of regional tourism centers in the county from three to two.
The visitors center, located inside the State Farmers Market in Forest Park and attached to The Oakwood Cafe, opened in January 2004. The closure is an effort to consolidate the CCCVB's resources and market Clayton County as a tourist attraction through better advertising and billboard signage along Interstate 75.
"It's the end of our fiscal year, so for us, it's the perfect time for us to reallocate those funds," said Megan Spears, media spokesperson for the CCCVB. Between the tourism center located inside the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro and the Morrow Tourist Center in Morrow, having a third center was "overkill," Spears said.
Spears said as a result of rising gas prices and current travel trends, more people are vacationing closer to home. Given the current economic climate, Spears said it is more important to be able to attract regional visitors.
"We want to place more billboards on [Interstate] 75 South, coming out of Atlanta," said Spears. She said the CCCVB has three billboards along Interstate 75 North, closer to Lovejoy and McDonough. "Right now we don't have anything to entice the visitor coming out of Atlanta," said Spears.
The Farmers Market visitors center offers tourists a variety of regional specialties, such as locally made jams and jellies, salsa and hot sauce made from Georgia-grown peaches, and salad dressing made from Vidalia onions. The center also offers postcards, maps, regional guides, and brochures about local attractions.
In addition, the center has hosted educational field trips for metro Atlanta schools and summer camp programs for the last four years. The center has stopped booking tours, however.
When the CCCVB relinquishes operation of the center next Sunday, the responsibility for maintaining it will fall upon the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
Bobby Harris, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, was unavailable for comment, but an official with the department, who asked not to be named, said the department plans on continuing to operate the center, but at this time, "there is nothing set in stone. We're dedicated to keeping a visitors bureau on the market," said the official. "We're working on a plan to keep it open."
Spears said the CCCVB is "open to the idea" of operating the center at a later date, once it becomes more economically feasible. She said the planned redevelopment of the State Farmers Market may help speed up the process.
CCCVB president and CEO Pat Duncan said the funds used to operate the center will be put to good use.
"Recent increases in advertising response show that advertising is a great tool to reach potential visitors to Clayton County, who are destination-driven travelers," said Duncan, in a written statement.
"The funds used to support the Farmers Market location will be used to buy additional outdoor boards to promote the county's tourism product and for additional media-related programs used to promote the good news about Clayton County's many tourism-related assets."