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Counties Save Welcome Station

July 1st, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

VisitFlorida, the state’s primary tourism marketing arm begins the new budget year with $26 million less in funding.
It came after a bitter fight to kill the agency.
One casualty of the cut was the closing of a rural welcome center on the state line in the panhandle.

Three hundred thousand vehicles a year cross the Alabama-Florida state line on US 231 in Jackson County.
The welcome center there is he least visited in the state.

That’s why the agency put the center on the chopping block. 

It was set to have closed Sunday night. 

“We’ll be assuming operations of this welcome center,” said Jennifer Adams with the North West Florida Tourism Council.

Keeping the center open will cost the eight rural counties at least $500,000 a year. 

They worried that the major tourist destinations the south would lose business if the center closed.

“Many travelers come in and not knowing where they are going to end up, if we can capture them and direct them to any of the 8 counties in Northwest Florida. That certainly is the vision,” said Adams.

At the heart of the budget cuts was a feud between the agency and the House Speak, Jose Oliva, who has called the agency useless.

The $26 million cut was a compromise to keep VisitFlorida running for another year, but it begs the question: Do the counties taping up to run the welcome center prove that VisitFlorida isn’t needed?


“No, we are not proving to the Speaker of the House that Visit Florida isn’t needed,” said Dan Rowe with the Panama City Beach Visitor Bureau. “We’re showing that the tourism industry is very resliient and we are working together to tell our story.”

The local funding means six employees working at the center will get to keep their jobs, but if the Speaker or the House has his way, every other center along the state line could be fair game to close a year from now, unless locals step in.
VisitFlorida only got a reprieve from lawmakers after the Governor stepped in and asked for another year so he could see firsthand if the agency provides and value.
We reached out to the Speaker of the House’s office, seeking a response to the counties’ action.
We have not heard back.

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