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Welcome Wagon Trish Sullivan bids for state visitor center in downtown Salinas to attract tourism.

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Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 9:59 pm, Thu May 16, 2013.

Trish Sullivan, Salinas’ one-woman galvanizer for local art and cultural tourism, is pushing for an official California visitor center downtown. Sullivan’s organization, Destination Salinas, has applied for the coveted Welcome Center designation that could potentially bring thousands of additional tourists to Monterey County – with John Steinbeck’s hometown as the gateway.

“They do marketing all over the world,” Sullivan says. “Having Salinas a part of that would put us in a much bigger audience than we have now, and it comes with freeway signs which gets people off the freeway and into our city.

“I think Salinas is quite a gem and I kind of want to share it with everybody.”

The state has 13 Welcome Centers, but none in Monterey County. A Salinas center could fill a gap along the coast between San Francisco and Pismo Beach at a time when the county could use all the extra tourism dollars it can get.

Salinas is one of three contenders, competing with organizations in the Truckee area and Tulare County, says Cris McLucas, program manager for the state’s tourism assessment program. McLucas says tourists flock to the centers, from 24,380 Oxnard visitors to 62,719 walk-ins at Merced’s center in 2008.

“The goal of the Welcome Center is to bring people that are visiting California… a portal where they can get information about surrounding attractions,” McLucas says.

Sullivan plans to set up her portal near the Salinas Amtrak Station, the future home for an intermodal transit center with Greyhound, MST and Caltrain connections. Sullivan already has historic Salinas postcards to sell, and given her background – she’s a sculptor, painter, photographer and founder of First Fridays Art Walk – she will be hosting exhibits at the center.

The state requires a $5,000-a-year fee for the center. Plus, Destination Salinas would have to pay for the highway signage and the yet-to-be-secured lease at the train station. Sullivan hopes to partner with the city and the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau to help cover the costs.

Steve Wille, president and CEO of the Visitors Bureau, says the organization is happy to lend their expertise. “It’s a great example of another one of our communities understanding the importance of tourism and moving aggressively to improve what the whole market does,” he says.

McLucas says the state is currently scheduling site visits and will make a decision in early March.

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