FLORENCE — The proposed tourism office and visitor center slated for construction in McFarland Park should be safe from flooding that occurs in the park during heavy rain because it will be elevated higher than required in the area’s flood plain, according to plans for the facility.
The former golf pro shop currently at the site flooded twice in its 40-year existence. It will be demolished for construction to begin on the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism offices visitors center, likely in late February or early March, according to the construction schedule.
The new building will be a 7,500 square-foot facility with office space and exhibits of the area’s highlights, a small theater, conference room and a freshwater aquarium that will be home to a sampling of fish and river life indigenous to the area.
Project director, Libby Jordan, who is also the tourism office’s director of cultural tourism, said the new building will be elevated just more than 2 feet, which is a foot more than required.
“The foundation will be two feet higher so we’re building beyond (the Tennessee Valley Authority’s) specifications,” Jordan said.
TVA owns the property where the visitor center will be built.
However, the road leading into the park will not be raised so, at times, it will likely continue to flood.
The search for a permanent home for tourism offices and new visitor center took about four years. In that time, tourism Director Debbie Wilson said she and the board of directors considered numerous possibilities and even purchased land behind the Shoals Chamber of Commerce in 2011.
Then the McFarland Park location off Savannah Highway came to their attention. It seemed the right fit — aesthetically pleasing nestled along the Tennessee River and a fairly centralized location in Lauderdale County. Plus, Wilson and board members liked the idea of it being near O’Neal Bridge, to serve as a sort of gateway into Florence and Lauderdale County.
The tourism board sold the property it had purchased and recouped its money.
“We realize there’s no perfect spot, but McFarland had one very significant factor we were looking for: expansion room,” Wilson said.
Bids on the facility will be opened Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. at Florence City Hall.
The property came at no cost to the tourism board. Jordan said it took a year of negotiations with TVA before approval was granted. A big part of those talks involved the fact that the property is located in a flood plain.
Jordan said during times that standing water prevents traffic into the park, the tourism office will continue to operate from a satellite facility in a city building to be determined.
“The office employees will be fine but we know it will impact the visitor experience,” Jordan said. “Our hope is to pacify those visitors through brochures and information in other locations.”
In the event the building does flood, furniture and exhibits will be raised and a backup generator will be in place to keep the aquarium running in the event electricity goes out.
Flooring and other building materials used in the facility will be such that water won’t damage them.
“The engineers are very confident that this site will be fine,” Jordan said. “If we didn’t have that go-ahead we’d have never pursued this location.”
Board member David Abramson has been involved in the negotiations from the onset. He said the building will have flood insurance although that can’t be pursued fully until the building is in place.
Abramson said the building will be 6 inches above the 500-year flood elevation, a positive factor in securing flood insurance.
“The way the building is designed, water isn’t going to ruin it,” he said. “This was by far the best location for people to see us and for accessibility.”
The building is not expected to cost more than $2 million, including construction and exhibits.
The board plans for the building to be paid for through lodging taxes, which have increased in the past few years.
Wilson said the board has 15 years to pay for the facility but “we’re trying to pay it off in 10 years.”
“We’ve cut to the bone to save and be able to do this, so at this point I believe we can pay this building off in 10 years,” Wilson said. “I see some (leveling off) with growth in revenue and we can’t maintain 17 percent growth like we had in 2011, but we do expect to continue to be up. We’ve planned for additional costs in running the center as well. We know there will be more costs.”
The tourism offices have been located in the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa facility since 2005.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|