Geary County, KAN. (WIBW) -- After years of debate and research, Flint Hills officials say they’ve found the perfect spot for a brand new welcome center along I-70.
On Wednesday, a committee made up of representatives of five central Flint Hills counties made the announcement for the proposed center at Exit 313 and K-177 in Geary County. Exit 313 is the exit for Manhattan and Council Grove.
It will have a retail shop, food court, convenience store and gas station as well as a 90-foot observation tower, giving visitors panoramic views of the prairie.
Those involved in the project say putting the new welcome center at that location will give tourists easy access to Riley, Geary, Wabaunsee, Pottawatomie and Morris Counties as well as Fort Riley.
"Recently, Governor Sam Brownback has made the Flint Hills region a special focus for tourism development and habitat preservation. Since the early 1990s, representatives from communities in the central Flint Hills have discussed the possibility of a regional Welcome Center on I-70. In 2008, the Flint Hills Regional Welcome Center Core Committee was created to formally keep this process going. It will attract travelers off of the interstate and into the Flint Hills in order that they might sample our attractions, our food, lodging, special events, activities and our people," said Barb Downey, a member of the Flint Hills Welcome Center Core Committee and a Wabaunsee County rancher. The committee was established by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We know without question that visitors increase tourism to the area and to the state. We know that tourism grows our economy and creates jobs. It’s a strong driver for revitalization so really, what could be more important in our state at this time. It’s going to provide a place for travelers not only to stop for some roadside conveniences and that’s a great thing because it’s a good way to get people in and get them to stop. But it’ll also tap into unexpected attractions that can be found just off the interstate. We all know when we’re traveling, we don’t always have time to stop right then and there but if we can plant a seed and get them interested and get them back when they do have time to stop, and that’s going to be a very good things for our area and for our state," added Deb Miller, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
With the help of a consulting group, the Flint Hills Welcome Center Core Committee looked at six possible sites, then narrowed the list down to three- K-18, K-177 and Maple Hill. K-177 came out on top because of its location at the center of the five counties and its ability to lead potential visitors to significant state-sponsored tourism sites, including the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, the Native Stone Scenic Byway and the STAR Bond-financed entertainment complex in Manhattan, including the nearly completed Flint Hills Discovery Center which state officials are calling the newest landmark in northeast Kansas.
The consulting firm who did the study on the proposed site at K-177 estimates millions of dollars will be generated by the welcome center from entertainment, accommodations, transportation, food and shopping.
Now that a site has been selected, the committee will turn their attention to finding sources of funding
The Flint Hills Welcome Center will cost $9 million to build.
Members of the committee and consultants that were present at the announcement Wednesday told reporters they could not provide a construction timeline for the project at this time.