New Visitors Center open

Dylan J. Baker

Staff Writer

MANCHESTER - The Chamber of Commerce has settled in to its new location at 39 Bonnet Street and is ready for visitors.

The new Chamber office and Welcome Center in a building that used to house the offices of W. Byrd Laprade, an engineering firm, opened on Wednesday, Oct. 31. The building has been the site of extensive modifications and renovations over the past year.

The Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Berta McGinniss, expects the move will help the Chamber fulfill a renewed sense of purpose.

"This has been a long time coming. When you make a move this big it's always exciting," said McGinniss.

After nearly two years of planning, the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber is ready for this move and it probably could not have come at a better time, she said.

"We know that the two roundabouts working together are the hub of our community and that's where our walking guests are moving around and to be where people can see you and say 'there's the chamber, there's the visitor's center,' that's really what led us," said McGinniss. "It was a vision to become a visitor's center and not just an office with brochures."

The new building has two stories with the downstairs being primarily a visitor's center filled with local art, brochures from local businesses, and televisions to make the visitor feel welcomed. Upstairs are the Chamber's offices and a conference room that may be used by the public upon request.

The move to the new building cost in excess of $100,000, according to McGinniss and was designed by The McBride Company, which has a headquarters in Manchester. The entire cost of the building was paid for by generous local sponsor's.

Pat McBride, the designer of the project, was contacted by Joe Wagner, President of the board of the Chamber, to undertake the project. The McBride Company has designed buildings for Disney, Universal Studio's, Discovery Channel, and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville among others.

"The community has been great and if we could donate our design time and energies to a project like the welcome center where we thought we could add some value we decided it would be a great project to get involved in," said McBride.

It was important to both the Chamber and McBride that the welcome center have a Vermont feel to it when visitors first walked in the building.

"The work we do is very unique, but basically what we try to do is to create unique environments and atmospheres," said McBride. "The goal with the welcome center was that the moment that you walked in that you got this sense that you were in Vermont, that you got this sense that you were in the Green Mountains. We try to do visual design elements that instantly transport you into a state of mind of the environment."

Those design elements include decorations like a canoe, local art, and other artifacts that represent Vermont and especially the local area. There is wireless internet connectivity available as well.

Even with some more work to be done designing the interior McBride was pleased with the outcome of the building.

"I think at the end of the day it will be a pretty exciting place to visit," he said.

Those who work at the Chamber feel the same way and are ready to present the new building to the community.

"I think if there is one take away it's that the chamber feels that the highest and best use of our organization is good information for the guest and that's what this location will allow us to do," said McGinniss. "See more people, tell them more about our region and hopefully they will come back and stay longer."


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