Brockport Welcome Center under new management

By on April 22, 2019

As the navigation season approaches, Brockport’s Welcome Center on the canal is under new management. Susan Smith and Tim Eldred have been appointed by the Village Board to the positions of Director and Assistant Director of the Welcome Center.  They will be assisted by an advisory board of five volunteer members, also appointed by the Village Board.  What is new is reporting and being directly accountable to the Village Board along with the Director and Assistant Director receiving a modest stipend commensurate with their increased responsibilities.

This is a significant structural change from the all-volunteer management committee that has capably served the Welcome Center for many years, overseeing its greeters, handling its finances, and tending to the building’s physical needs. As Jo Matela pointedly notes, the reorganization has left some hard feelings in its wake, and that is regrettable. As mayor I cannot knowledgeably comment on the process or content of internal information sharing (or lack thereof) within the Management Committee, but I can speak to why the village board chose to make this change.

It began with a direction Susan Smith, a member of the Welcome Center Management Committee, saw for the Welcome Center.  Susan created a social media presence for the Welcome Center and secured membership for it in the Brockport Merchants Association, effectively partnering our tourist portal with our downtown businesses.  She reached out to the Fairport Partnership to see how Brockport might learn from their successes in working with their downtown merchants. Most importantly, she saw a need for a more formally structured committee to manage the Welcome Center and oversee its greeters’ program. She pitched her ideas to me and to Deputy Mayor John La Pierre, liaison to the Welcome Center.   She refined those ideas in meetings with Deputy Mayor LaPierre and brought them to a Village Board workshop on February 25.

The other members of the Management Committee were invited to that workshop.  At Bill Andrews’ (Chair of the Management Committee) request, Greeters and Management Committee members also weighed in by email on these proposed changes. In the end most of the changes Susan proposed were ones the Management Committee did not want, but that the Village Board did.

Aware of the shrinking time to the seasonal opening of the canal I added the proposed management changes as an action item to the Village Board meeting agenda of March 18.  They included appointment of a Director and Assistant Director and an Advisory Board. These were unanimously approved, and the positions of Director and Assistant Director advertised. The Village Board attached modest stipends to the Director and Assistant Director positions, similar to those for our Farmers Market managers.

Susan Smith and Tim Eldred were appointed Director and Assistant Director at the April 1 Village Board meeting. Mindful of their dedicated service to the Welcome Center and their institutional memory, the Village Board reappointed the members of the Management Committee as the Advisory Board. Only one chose to continue.  The Advisory Board positions have been advertised with a deadline of April 30th.

With this reorganization the Village Board believes that the Welcome Center can better extend its reach and influence as a focus for tourism to Brockport and as a partner to the Brockport Merchants Association.   We also believe its direct reporting and accountability to the Village Board are essential. A change in the Welcome Center’s handling of revenue (which will include accepting credit cards) will be to everyone’s advantage and will protect the village in its annual audit. At the next meeting the Village Board will vote upon a recommended flat fee for all boats at $15 a night, another change which will make handling the revenue stream easier for the volunteer greeters.

The many volunteer greeters are the heart of the Brockport Welcome Center and the most critical component in its successful operation.  Their energy, generosity of spirit and hospitality have made Brockport the favorite stop for boaters on the Erie Canal.  Streamlining their responsibilities frees them to do what they do best – Welcome visitors to Brockport.

Looking to the future and the enhanced role that the Welcome Center can play as a portal to Brockport, the Village is applying for a Canalway grant in the upcoming round of CFA (NYS Consolidated Funding Application) grants.  The application will cover upgrades to the building, the addition of two lights at the canalfront, a proposed canalfront pavilion for musical and other performances, amphitheater seating on the hillside, and funding for the pollinator gardens project already underway there.

There is one thing we can all agree on about the Welcome Center.  Since its creation in 2005 under the direction of then Mayor Jo Matela it has been a terrific asset to Brockport; we want to insure that it continues to be.

Margay Blackman

Mayor, Village of Brockport