Equal Rights Heritage Center city council presentation

Stephanie DeVito, executive director of Downtown Auburn Business Improvement District, right, and Equal Rights Heritage Center Visitor Experience Manager Courtney Kasper present the status of the ERHC to the Auburn City Council Thursday. 

AUBURN — As of Wednesday, 3,834 visitors had ventured to Auburn's new Equal Rights Heritage Center since its opening on Nov. 13, 2018.

Thursday, the city council received a rundown on how the center is settling downtown. The presentation prepared by Stephanie DeVito, the executive director of Downtown Auburn Business Improvement District and the center's visitor experience manager, Courtney Kasper, gave an update on the facility's traffic flow and upcoming events. 

On a typical day, around 18 to 30 visitors stop at the center. Facility-led events have brought in more numbers, but with the winter weather, Kasper said attendance is expected to shift. She added that annual visitation is projected to be anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 visitors.

According to Kasper, not only are local visitors engaging with the welcome center, but people from Canada and states as far as Alaska are coming, too. Kasper said the amount of returning visitors is equally exciting. 

These returning guests, Kasper said, are "spending more and more time with the exhibits as well as bringing back family and friends."

"When this project was presented to (the Auburn City Council), the five of us embraced it wholeheartedly," councilor James Giannettino said. "We knew this was going to be a world of opportunity for the city of Auburn." 

Not everyone was on board, though. Many Auburnians were hesitant to accept the facility's arrival. Despite some early negativity, DeVito said it's certainly shrunk since the center's opening. 

"I've had people actually say 'You know, I wasn't for this. Now that I'm in it, it's beautiful ... we didn't realize all the content inside,'" DeVito said. "They've done a total 360 — they absolutely love it." 

The facility is fully-staffed, with eight part-time employees and Kasper, a full-time visitor experience manager. Staff numbers are expected to grow once spring and summer come around. 

Although it won't be officially established until a few months from now, a volunteer program — that has already seen over 40 interested applicants — is in the works.

In addition to establishing its own presence, DeVito said the ERHC has (as planned) propped up its neighboring businesses. Local restaurants, entertainment venues, and other historical sites are getting recognized by ERHC visitors, ultimately creating a collaborative downtown promotion.

"The strategic plan as an economic driver for economic development is working. It's not only working to focus on all the historical and cultural sites that we have in our community, it's also an incubator for all the other businneses that are downtown," she said. 

To help further engage with the city, the ERHC plans on exploring more events and activities including a book club, a lecture series, hosting a college night and arranging entertainment. 

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or dan.orzechowski@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan.