One welcome center wasn't enough for central New York.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Destiny USA in Syracuse Wednesday to announce the opening of the new Central New York Welcome Center inside the shopping center.
The center features a virtual reality experience and a wall of fame honoring central New York greats. Local companies, including Chocolate Pizza Company in Marcellus and Recess Coffee in Syracuse, will sell products in the center's retail space. The retail area will be operated by the Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau.
I Love New York kiosks are available in the center and an LED screen on the side of a camper highlights tourist attractions in the region. There is a state Department of Motor Vehicles kiosk to complete certain transactions, such as vehicle registration renewals.
"This new welcome center will introduce New York state grown and produced products to millions of visitors of the Destiny USA mall, one of the nation's largest shopping centers located right here in Syracuse," Hochul said. "The Central NY Welcome Center presents the perfect opportunity to promote our state, introduce our products to a global market, promote tourism and most importantly — bring more jobs to upstate New York."
The budget to set up the welcome center at Destiny USA was $2.5 million, according to Empire State Development. The agency said it appears the project will come in under the budgeted amount.
The state isn't paying rent for the space occupied by the welcome center, but an Empire State Development spokesperson said there is an agreement in place with Destiny USA to ensure the mail "will be made whole for operating expenses it incurs that are related to the welcome center." This includes utility bills and security expenses.
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The 2017-18 state budget included funding for the establishment of 10 welcome centers — one in each of the state's 10 economic development regions.
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged $55 million to fund tourism initiatives, including the 10 welcome centers. When he made the announcement, Auburn was selected as the location for central New York's welcome center.
The state plans to build a 7,500-square-foot center across from Memorial City Hall. The project is expected to cost $10 million.
However, the center isn't being billed as a welcome center. It is now being called the Equal Rights Heritage Center. There will be similarities to the new welcome center at Destiny USA. There will be a market selling locally made products and the facility will promote local tourist attractions.
Hochul, who visited Auburn in September to announce the $10 million investment, said at the time that "there is no better place in America to honor equal rights than this place right here."
The project will be completed by fall 2018.
Some of the welcome centers proposed by Cuomo have already opened for visitors. The first opened last fall on Long Island. There are also centers at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, at Lock E-13 along the New York State Thruway and off Interstate 81 in Broome County.