Tag Archives: tourism

New Gallery Coming to the Library

A few days ago, the mayor broke the news that the Provo Library will soon have a new gallery on the fourth floor:

The initial plans detail the conversion of the space into a large, open venue that will host traveling exhibits from major and regional museums and galleries. Many science, historical, art, and cultural museums like the Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Humanities create traveling exhibits that can more easily fit into smaller spaces. The Library anticipates hosting 4 – 5 exhibits a year that would be free and available to our residents.

This announcement is exciting because, as I’ve written before on this blog, the arts are a major asset for the community. This new gallery space is also exciting because it further bolsters one of Provo’s best destinations, which can benefit locals and tourists alike.

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Underused Tourist Attractions

A few days ago I was riding past the Provo Library when I saw a couple of guys taking pictures. I quickly pulled over and snapped a picture of them:

A man wearing a red shirt is barely visible in the bottom left of this picture. He was taking pictures of the library with another man.

I don’t know who these people were or where they came from, but this happened a day after the Nu Skin event in downtown, so I think there’s a reasonable chance they’re tourists.

I took this picture because I think it shows how the Provo Library is actually a tourist attraction, even though it’s not really treated as one. Despite being a beautiful and unique building — and one that was restored at great expense — I think many of us conceive of it as a great community asset, rather than a destination for out of towners. Maybe I’m projecting my preconceptions onto the community, but ultimately there’s not much tourist-oriented infrastructure — things like signs and maps, as well as shops and surrounding retail — directing visitors to the library or catering to them upon arrival.

Despite that shortcoming, some tourists actually do find it, as this picture suggests. I propose that that makes it an underused tourist attraction; with better wayfinding and infrastructure, more people would find the library and walk away with a better impression of Provo, as well as having spent more money.

There are all sorts of historic landmarks, public art, and natural wonders in Provo that function similarly. These assets are used and loved by locals, but can be hard for tourists to find. For example, I recently went on a walking tour of historic homes and, days later, canoed down the Provo River. Both of those activities could be enjoyed by visitors, if visitors just knew about them.

The point is that Provo already has destinations that tourists could enjoy, it just lacks a tool to bring those destinations into a unified constellation.

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Filed under Development, economics, travel

Why Are There No Provo Tours?

While reading about Colorado recently, I ended up on the website of “Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours.” Evidently, Banjo Billy offers bus tours of Denver and, significantly, Boulder —  a city both I and others have frequently compared to Provo.

According to Banjo Billy’s website, his tour of Boulder includes stories, some history, and other things. The tours cost $22 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors.

Though I’m not sure I’m Banjo Billy’s target demographic, I love that he’s providing a guided way for visitors to get to know the city. Provo could really use something similar; though there are self-guided walking tours, as well as activities on the river and the Heber Creeper, there’s nothing quite like a bus tour.

In fact, Provo has very little tourism infrastructure. That’s odd because BYU is comparable in size to Boulder’s university and likely has a more national alumni network because it’s not a state school. Provo is also slightly larger than Boulder and is home to national corporations like Nu Skin and Ancestry.com. In other words, there’s a lot of potential demand for tourism-oriented enterprises in Provo like Banjo Billy’s.

Capitalizing on that potential would require more publicity for existing activities and attractions — for example, more actively trying to bring Education Week visitors into downtown. But it would also require actually providing those visitors with more things to do. And taking a cue from Banjo Billy, those things could emphasize the uniqueness and character of the city itself.

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The Best Reason to Preserve the Original Tabernacle Ruins: Economics

The importance of history cannot be understated and offers numerous reasons to save the the original tabernacle foundation in its current location. But I believe the strongest argument for preservation is ultimately economic.

Though this topic previously came up in this post, I want to return to the discussion because I suspect that interest in preservation is limited and perhaps even misunderstood by the population at large.

To begin, the economic justification for saving the original tabernacle ruins can be broken down into two categories: long-term gains and short-term expenses.

First, the long-term gains. At the risk of sounding crass, the original tabernacle foundation ruins have already become a “tourist attraction.” And the point of any tourist attraction — be it a major museum or a road-side trap — is at least in part to generate economic growth.

The foundation ruins have already generated some growth by employing independent contractors and, most significantly as we look forward, by directing visitors into surrounding businesses. If preserved, that effect would continue and increase, especially as downtown traffic increases.

Unfortunately, plans to move the ruins fail to capitalize on this economic opportunity because the proposed destinations have little surrounding commerce and lie well outside the destination zone for non-local visitors. In the end, there is actually very little long-term economic justification for preserving the ruins at any location outside downtown (though, of course, there are historic and spiritual justifications that I find compelling).

The second economic justification for preserving the foundation ruins at their current location is that doing so would be cheaper for everyone, especially taxpayers, in the short term.

Consider: if the LDS Church donates the foundation stones to the city, tax payers will foot the bill for moving and reconstructing a Mormon historic monument. This process will be expensive and will likely have a very small return on investment for the reasons mentioned above.

Leaving the ruins on church property, however, would mean spending only minimal resources to turn it into a small attraction and would cost taxpayers nothing because the site lies on LDS Church property.

The church can obviously decline and simply abandon preservation plans, but my point is that Provo Mormons should make it clear they value the site for at least the economic reasons mentioned above.

In any case, the total cost of retrofitting the site for visitors would be cheaper than moving it and reconstructing it. Even if the church didn’t foot the bill, taxpayers would be better served by paying to have it left in place (though that may not be possible given potential property ownership and church-state issues).

However, all of this is merely to point out that current proposals mix the absolute lowest return on investment with the absolute most expensive implementation. That should outrage both taxpayers — who will be spending now and losing money later — as well as Mormon tithe payers, who have already paid to have the site excavated.

Preserving this site in its current location would cost taxpayers less in the short term, and would benefit the businesses pictured in the background. Moving it will be costly, and will not have significant economic benefits.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, history itself is a good reason to save something. The Roman Forum lay forgotten and covered under meters of sediment for hundreds of years. Cows literally grazed on top of it. But one day someone rediscovered it, thought it was worth saving, and today it’s one of the most meaningful “tourist attractions” in the western world.

But while the significance of history may be subjective, the realities of economics are cold and impartial. For those who already favor preservation, economics offers a rational and timely argument against naysayers. For everyone else, economics demonstrates why this issue matters.

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Filed under building, Development, Downtown, economics, neighborhood, Provo Tabernacle