By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A vision for a visitors center near Interstate 5 is becoming clearer.

Top officials from the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, which acts as the tourism agency for the city, say it would dramatically increase visibility and aim to double visitors to Keizer if the facility is built.

There’s been no decisions made, but some hope to establish a partnership with Salem-Keizer Transit, which plans to build a transit center on Lockhaven Drive at Keizer Station Boulevard.

Any expansion would be contingent on funding. While no one’s sure yet where money for building would come from, officials believe grants from organizations like Travel Oregon and even contributions from youth sports groups could be used to operate it once it’s built.

Transient occupancy taxes (TOT) could also come into the equation. The Chamber received $16,118 from the city of Keizer in TOT, more commonly known as a hotel/ motel tax, in 2008-09.

Their proposal calls for hiring one more full-time employee, increasing fulltime staffing to three. The visitors center would serve to “promote Keizer as a destination to stay, play or shop … or to live and work,” it states.

Christine Dieker, executive director of the chamber, acknowledged doubling tourism in three to five years is ambitious – but she thinks it’s doable.

Chamber President Joe Egli said attracting more tourists – be it for a youth sports tournament or acting as a hub to get to destinations throughout the Willamette Valley – is key to growing the local economy.

“Essentially we need to get more money in town instead of trading dollars around town,” Egli said. “… It’s a food chain effect. If we feed our retail businesses with new money, our businesses will grow. … They will need more insurance, they’ll have money to buy bigger houses and will need more professional services.”

He said the Chamber’s current home in the basement of the Keizer Heritage Center “does nothing to bring more business to River Road. … If we’re out (at Keizer Station) we will bring more business to Keizer by nature.”

Dieker believes proximity to area attractions – the coast and wineries to the west, mountains to the east and Portland to the north – will be a big selling point to augment what’s already here, like the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

“Location, location, location is something we’ve always said to be special of Keizer,” she said. “… Actually staying in Keizer puts you less than an hour’s drive to so many things that are special about the Willamette valley.”

She also said efforts in recent years to emphasize the area’s history, along with programs like public art, would give travelers one more reason to stay in Keizer.

“There’s a history behind this area that’s pretty special in Oregon,” Dieker said.

A new community center open for rentals, along with youth sports facilities, could be another draw, she said.

There’s another amenity – public restrooms – Egli thinks could be a draw.

And Egli thinks the chamber continuing to act as a tourism agency puts Keizer front and center, rather than outsourcing to other outfits like Travel Oregon .

“They’re not going to be pushing Keizer as much,” he said. “They’ll be pushing regional things. But we want to be a player.”