FLORENCE — Construction on a new visitor’s center in Lauderdale County is on schedule to begin in March, and tourism officials will know later this month what that center will cost.
Bids for construction on the 7,500-square-foot building will be revealed at a meeting Jan. 29, according to Libby Jordan, cultural tourism director for the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Board.
The visitor’s center and office complex will be built on the site of the old golf pro shop in McFarland Park, next to Florence Habor.
The bureau’s temporary offices are now on the bottom floor of the Renaissance Tower.
“Right now, we’re working with exhibit companies and getting everything in place,” Jordan said. “It’s been a really smooth process, everything considered.”
Florence architect Bob Whitten is overseeing the project. The old pro shop building is being demolished, and the new facility will be built up an additional 2 feet to raise it above the Tennessee River flood level.
The project is expected to cost no more than $2 million.
Florence City Council members agreed in December to borrow money from Regions Bank, with the tourism board repaying the loan through lodging tax collections. The tourism board, based on criteria established when the organization was formed, cannot borrow money.
Lodging tax revenue in 2012 was up $73,000 from the previous year, officials said.
Board members Wednesday agreed to repay the debt as quickly as possible.
“We don’t need this hanging over us for years and years,” board member Alex Nelson said. “I say the quicker we get this paid off, the better.”
In other business, board member Ernest Haygood praised the proposed purchase of the old Florence Golf and Country Club by Chinese businessman Zhang Zhiting, who wants to buy the 155-acre property to develop a center for integrative health in partnership with the University of North Alabama. The Guizhou Shenqi Group has offered $2.1 million for the property, and Mayor Mickey Haddock has been authorized to negotiate with the company.
The program would train professionals in wellness and preventative health tactics such as stress management, nutrition, exercise science and mental health.
The company’s plan includes a campus large enough to house and educate 1,000 or more graduate students and would feature gardens of plants and herbs from around the world. The gardens would become a tourist attraction.
“From a tourism standpoint, I see this as a win-win,” Haygood said. “The long-term result of this looks excellent and could be key in economic development in our area.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.