Mat-Su Convention and Visitor’s Bureau awarded $6.7M grant to build new visitor’s center

It’s now up to the borough’s assembly to receive the federal funding before construction plans can get underway
It’s now up to the borough’s assembly to receive the federal funding
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 7:23 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been a long time coming for the Mat-Su Convention and Visitor’s Bureau after the recession and pandemic paused progress on the development of a new Mat-Su Visitor’s Center. Now, however, the project is back on track after receiving a federal grant totaling $6.7M under the American Rescue Plan.

It’s a massive push forward that Bonnie Quill, president and CEO of the tourism organization has been waiting for over 14 years to hear.

“This is all about the economic impact that visitors bring to our community,” Quill said. “That’s what visitor centers provide is an opportunity to educate and inspire and link visitors to experiences that will really extend their stay.”

The log building that previously housed the MSCVB was located where Mat-Su Regional Hospital now sits. Quill said the construction of the hospital — as well as the interchange of the Parks Highway and Glenn Highway — made the visitor’s center lose access and visibility. In 2010, the organization completed a feasibility study for the relocation and replacement of the old center using a national scenic byways grant. The study identified the former site of Homestead RV Park on the opposite side of the interchange as the potential new location for the new Mat-Su Valley Gateway Visitor’s Center.

The site was purchased in 2014 using a $1M capital grant from the state, with building and site design completed in 2016. However, once the location was locked in, the project stalled for four years with no additional funding available for the construction of the complex.

That was until an opportunity presented itself in the form of recovery assistance following the COVID-19 pandemic. The visitor’s bureau applied for a federal grant under the Economic Development Administration’s Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which allocated $500M — out of the $1.9T passed through the American Rescue Plan bill — to American communities.

“People are forgetting what summer of 2020 was really like,” Quill stated. “It was devastating for the industry.”

Two years after applying for federal funding, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced last week that the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will be awarded the grant to fund the new visitor center in Palmer. The 10,600 square foot visitor’s complex would also serve as office space as well as an educational facility.

“People want to live here, and if it’s a place where people want to live, it’s a place where people want to visit and we need to welcome them,” Quill said. “We need to, you know, provide those in-depth experiences to independent travelers and connect them with our tourism businesses.”

Mat-Su Borough employees will now have to put forth legislation for the assembly to vote on whether or not to receive the funds, which could happen as early as Oct. 4 regular assembly meeting.