Durango Builds Collaborative Center and Welcomes the World

13 Mar

This July, DCI is excited be holding a Downtown Institute in Durango, “Branding, Events, and Collaborative Marketing.” Register here, and be sure to check out Durango’s beautiful new Welcome Center while we’re there! 

Durango, Colorado plays host to nearly one million visitors each year. Tourism also accounts for one-quarter of the local economy, as does Fort Lewis College. Yet, there was a disconnect between the visitors, the downtown merchants, and the college. Because Fort Lewis College is located on a hill overlooking the town, many visitors never knew there was a college.

In addition, the absence of centralized information and visitor assistance in the downtown core left each merchant to provide information to visitors, a daunting task given that Durango offers more than 200 special events in any given year. Basic visitor services such as downtown maps, public restrooms, and available drinking water were also lacking. The obvious choice was to centralize these services in the heart of downtown, but where?  How would it be funded? Who would take responsibility for management? The answer was to draw from the many public and private resources and leverage community partnerships to create a new downtown asset greater than the sum of its parts.


Concentrating on marketing the idea and allocating the space; negotiations, buy-ins, contracts and continual funding prioritized the effort. Building commitments and partnerships with the Durango Business Improvement District, Fort Lewis College, Durango Area Tourism Office and the municipality developed naturally with all parties already seeking an answer to individual concerns. Each organization agreed to contribute $100,000 for the renovation of a shared facility. Noticing a small shortfall in the renovation budget, an advertising bid went out for the marketing rights to the space. With the financing and contracts secured, reconstruction could begin.

Renovations began in February 2012, stripping the interior and focusing on the adaptive re-use of the 100-year-old building. Keeping the original leaded windows, trim, and the original stamped tin ceiling was essential.  Sourcing all contractors, subcontractors and as much product locally, the green initiative continued by installing high efficiency HVAC, lighting and plumbing. Non-VOC paint, a tile floor with recycled content, low flow toilets and recycling all the materials removed during the demolition also reduced the building’s footprint.

The project was completed in May 2012. The Durango Area Tourism Office occupies the offices on the mezzanine level. High capacity restrooms are ready for use, and able to be monitored by staff. A reception area that includes high resolution televisions, wall advertising, seating, a water fountain with a bottle fill, an ATM and information/ticket counter is primed to assist tourists. The Fort Lewis College space has ticket sales and student recruitment counter with interactive iPads set for guests. Three separate display windows on the front of the building exhibit one window for Fort Lewis College, a window for Durango events, and a center window between the doors for a single event showcasing.


With over 100,000 visitors in the first year of operation, the Durango Welcome Center has established its position in the Durango market and to downtown visitors. While most welcome centers can be a financial drain, this unique collaboration effectively eliminated the problem. By successfully delivering visitor services and local resident resources, the downtown Welcome Center is a model to be duplicated.

The Durango Welcome Center is the nucleus of downtown Durango, providing the ultimate concierge service, and welcoming the world. Plan to attend the 2014 DCI Institute, July 24-25, for a tour of the Durango Welcome Center.

Wayne K. Walsh is the public information officer for the City of Durango. 

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