The push to capitalize on visitors to Keizer is on.

The Keizer Chamber of Commerce is beginning a capital campaign to raise funds to develop and operate their new office at Keizer Station.  Mayor Lore Christopher has been talking for months of having a visitors center at the planned transit center, also at Keizer Station.

For years the city has looked to the Chamber to be its visitors arm, ceding to them the job of welcoming and directing people who make our city a destination or just traveling through.

Targeting visitor’s dollars at our shops and restaurants is a good thing. Targeting tourists is another thing altogether—Keizer just is not a tourist destination.

The best opportunities to develop business from visitors are the growing number of events in Keizer.  The Keizer Iris Festival attrracts thousands of attendees, mostly from Keizer and the immediate area.  The Good Vibrations Motorcycle Rally has chosen Keizer as its home this year.  The Festival of Lights Holiday Parade will move to Keizer in December.  RIVERfair at Keizer Rapids Park is held every August. The visitors who come into our city limits for these events are here for a short while and they are gone; events are not a sustainable visitor and tourist draw.

We all need to acknowledge the fact that we can not wish Keizer tourism into existence.  Aside from the various events and festivals in town, there are very few reasons for tourists to make Keizer their destination.  We can offer a dog park but it is doubtful that an Interstate traveler will drive five miles out of their way just to walk their dog when it just as easily be done at a rest stop.  And of course there is the fact that travelers along the freeway have no way to know the dog park is there.  The dog park is a lovely amenity for local residents, but not so much as a tourist draw.

We understand that tourism is one of Oregon’s major industries.  However, it is hard to compete against man-made attractions such  Woodburn Company Stores (the state’s #1 attraction), Spirit Mountain Casino (#2) let alone the natural destinations such as Mt. Hood, Multnomah Falls, the ocean beaches or the Cascade Mountains.

Some say that Keizer can take advantage of its location—in the heart of the Willamette Valley and also as one of the freeway exits for the Oregon coast and Spirit Mountain Casino.

Because Keizer has no tourist sites, some say we have the opportunity to be the location where tourists can learn about attractions, such as wine country, Oregon Garden, or the coast.  The challenge with that scenario is how to get those travelers to spend any money in Keizer before they head off to their real destinations.  And more specificially, how to get those same travelers to head down an unfamiliar, residential street, into the heart of Keizer.  We suspect that most travelers will want to be on their way; if they’re hungry they will most probably visit the names they know—fast food restaurants—whose signs they can see at Keizer Station.

It is said that getting ‘there’ is half the fun.  That’s true for those souls who enjoy getting off the beaten path and do a little exploring.  Even though exit 260 (Interstate 5/Chemawa Road/Salem Parkway) is busy, there are no signs that entice travelers.  People want convenience; not everyone will drive miles off the freeway to get a burger when one can be had close by.

Those traveling from the Portland metropolitan area are steered by highway signs to take Highway 99 through Tigard to get to the Oregon coast.  If you didn’t know the area, you wouldn’t know that route is long and laborious and that getting to the coast, or even Spirit Mountain, is easier and faster by taking the Salem Parkway to Highway 22 heading west through Polk County.

There are ways to get visitors and travelers to stop and spend money in Keizer for an hour or a day.  For example, the city of Keizer, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations can pool resources and erect a billboard in south Portland, before the Highway 99 exit to promote Salem Parkway (and thus Keizer) as a better route to the coast. Accordingly, the same groups could erect a billboard beside the freeway north of Keizer extolling the virtues of a stop over in our city.

More than efforts to draw traveling tourists, the Chamber and the city should be working to capture the dollars of visitors.  Visitors are those who come to town for a festival or an event, a conference at the civic center or the Renaissance Inn, a sports tournament or just to visit family and friends.

Tournaments have been going on at the Keizer Youth Sports fields for months.  Many local merchants don’t know they are happening.  Unless a team visiting from, say Roseburg, knows there are lots of food choices along River Road, they most likely opt to eat at the places they see at Keizer Station.  The communication between the sports organizations staging tournaments, the city, the Chamber and Keizer merchants should be honed so every business has the chance to grab a share of those visitor’s dollars.

Of course it is not the duty of the Chamber, nor the city, to make visitors visit merchants along Keizer’s original retail core.  The merchants themselves must do their part if they want to take part in the economic development that thousands of visitors can bring each year to Keizer.

Let the tourists come to Keizer but the smart money is on building on the visitors who come here for a variety of reasons—some for hours, some for days.

—LAZ