PITTSBORO – The Visitor Center, which opened in downtown Pittsboro last spring, serves as a resource for curious visitors and residents who want to learn more about the area.
Main Street Pittsboro (MSPBO), the nonprofit in charge of the facility, will stop receiving funds from the City of Pittsboro at the end of the fiscal year in June. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to close.
Maria Parker-Lewis, who is chair of MSPBO’s board of directors, said the group has taken steps to ensure the drop-in center — which serves Pittsboro and the entire county — won’t go out of business, despite the city’s lack of funding.
“We all think it serves an important function,” Parker-Lewis said. “People are moving into the area, so we think the community doesn’t want the welcome center closed.”
The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 last October to end the memorandum of understanding between the city and Main Street Pittsboro in favor of forming its own inner-city advisory council. Former Pittsboro mayor and MSPBO board member Randy Voller said he feels the city made the wrong decision in terminating the memorandum of understanding because of the value of the visitor center as a community resource and marketing tool.
“We thought it would be great if it was controlled by a quasi-public entity by lease,” Voller said, “so that when you had events downtown, you could have parking, you could have a hall green, you could have a place to welcome people and the community.
City staff are not responsible for the visitor center – MSPBO is instead responsible for operations inside the building. But because the city played a crucial role in the funding the nonprofit received to maintain the visitor center, without those funds, MSPBO will have to be responsible for keeping it open and funding its expenses.
Parker-Lewis says the nonprofit will change its name to continue operations of the drop-in center, as well as expand its services beyond the city limits of Pittsboro.
“The Visitor Center had a strong focus on Pittsboro because it was part of the main (program) street,” Parker-Lewis said. “We will now be independent of the city…we will continue to support Pittsboro, but even more strongly Chatham County tourism, economic development and the promotion of community activities.”
MSPBO has organized a team to help keep the center open to visitors as it continues to have talks with the city regarding the transition to an internal downtown advisory board.
A key member of the Visitor Center staff is Paul Sacca, who runs the center during business hours Wednesday through Saturday and helps provide information about Pittsboro and the county to visitors — as well as newcomers. Chatham residents looking to learn more about their community.
One of the main purposes of the visitor center is to help provide support to businesses in the city, county and region, according to Sacca.
“I have a list as an example of all the restaurants, all the shops, the bed and breakfasts, all kinds of things about town,” he said.
The visitor center serves thousands of visitors and residents, according to Sacca. More than 3,000 people have passed through the visitor center over the past year, from 45 different states and 13 countries. With visitors from all over the world entering the visitor center, Sacca said there was a clear need for the facility. The feedback he has received proves it.
“The feedback I’m getting is amazing,” Sacca said. “The comments I get are, ‘Thank you. I feel welcomed and it’s been extremely helpful.
Sacca isn’t the only one noticing a positive response at the reception center. Parker-Lewis said the main reason MSPBO wants to keep the center open is the area’s continued population increase – which, with the growth of Chatham Park and the addition of carmaker VinFast (and its 7,500 new jobs) will only accelerate.
“We’ve served thousands of people, and a lot of them are movers,” Parker-Lewis said. “They want to connect with their community; they want to be part of this place they moved to.
The downtown Pittsboro Welcome Center has provided a place where visitors and new residents can “see what the vibrant community has to offer,” she said, but they’re not the only ones benefit from it. Long-time residents are also satisfied with the center and its mission.
“There are people downtown who appreciate that we took that ugly building downtown, renovated it, and made it something welcoming for everyone,” he said. she declared.
MSPBO plans to hold fundraising events to help keep the doors of the Welcome Center open. The COVID-19 pandemic has put previous attempts on hold for the past two years, but “Local on Lorax” — a new event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 1 at The Plant in Pittsboro — will launch new efforts to fund the ‘operation.
“Everything in there will go towards the operation of the visitor center,” Parker-Lewis said. “That way, as soon as our deal ends on June 30, we will have funds to continue.”
As MSPBO continues its rebranding, Parker-Lewis said she wants to connect with businesses and new residents across the county, fulfilling what she believes is the mission of the welcome center.
“Now that we can be (focused) county-wide,” she said, “we think we can really partner and collaborate with other businesses in the county, nonprofits… especially tourism businesses to work together to raise funds and promote this wonderful place we have.
The Visitor Center is located at 37 Hillsboro St. in downtown Pittsboro and is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Journalist Taylor Heeden can be reached at [email protected]