Visitor center should be downtown

We’re very happy Saranac Lake’s visitor center is expected to move back downtown, from the North Elba Town House on River Street to the entrance of the Harrietstown Town Hall on Main Street, where it was until eight years ago.

The Harrietstown Town Hall was always a good location, and the North Elba Town House was always a bad one.

The downtown area near the Town Hall is buzzing with pedestrians on any number of busy occasions: Winter Carnival, Can-Am Rugby, First Night, monthly summer Art Walks, weekly summer Fun Runs, weekly farmers markets, summer Music on the Green concerts, Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It will be even more so when the Hotel Saranac reopens later this year.

Yes, the Town House is on a main road, but it’s at a tricky spot, next to the village’s most confusing intersection: River Street and Lake Flower Avenue. Newcomers driving in from Lake Placid are still befuddled by the intersection when they pass the Town House.

There’s never significant foot traffic in front of it, either. Even when crowds gather nearby for the Winter Carnival Ice Palace or the end of the 90-Miler canoe race, the Town House is still too far for people to go there.

We question the wisdom of appealing solely to visitors in their cars. Ideally, this village would have a huge sign saying, “Welcome to Saranac Lake! Please park your car and walk around.” It’s a wonderfully walkable village, and when people learn of a downtown destination at the Town Hall visitor center, they can immediately walk there. At the Town House, however, they get back in their cars and drive — hopefully not out of town.

Nothing will be lost because the chamber does not plan to move its director’s office. The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism took over the visitor center from the chamber in 2009. Therefore, visitors will be able to get information at either site, as long as they’re open.

One persistent problem with Saranac Lake’s visitor center is that its staff do not always work on weekends — or, if on Saturdays, not on Sundays. We urge ROOST to remedy this. Government employees already keep the Town Hall building open on weekdays, so if the visitor center staff take Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday off, visitors can pick up brochures and use the public bathroom. But on Saturday and Sunday, the Town Hall is locked unless the visitor center keeps it open.

This, of all services, should operate on vacationers’ hours, not bankers’ hours.

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