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Castle Rock awarded $170,000 grant for Visitor’s Center

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A computer rendering of Castle Rock’s proposed Visitor’s Center, which the city plans to build at Exit 49. A $170,000 grant was just awarded for the project, and it is expected construction will begin this fall.

Castle Rock has been awarded a $170,000 rural economic development grant for a new Visitor’s Center at Exit 49, and construction of the facility is expected to begin this fall.

Though a little less than the $184,000 the city had requested in their application to Cowlitz County, Public Works Director Dave Vorse said this amount will none-the-less allow Castle Rock to move forward with building the center, adding the city is grateful for the significant contribution of funds.

“Castle Rock is very appreciative for the Cowlitz County Commissioners for their generous contribution to this facility,” said Vorse, adding the city expects the Visitor’s Center “will be the ‘Welcome Mat’ for Cowlitz County as guests enter the county from the north.”

Vorse said the grant, approved officially April 22, will be combined with $47,000 in Big Idea funding (a program pooling lodging tax income from local municipalities to be disbursed to a different participating entity annually), as well as around $30,000 in funding and labor from City Hall, local contractors and volunteers, totaling $247,000 in available resources.

While this amount falls short of an official estimate of $261,246 for construction of the Visitor’s Center, Vorse said the difference would have accounted for a contingency fund and had not been set aside for specific construction costs, acknowledging this leaves the budget will room for error.

“It’ll be tight,” he said, stating the city will have to keep a close eye on how money is being spent to make sure they don’t go over budget.

The Visitor’s Center is expected to be built at the state-owned Park-and-Ride facility west of Exit 49, and would take the place of the current Visitor’s Center housed in the Exhibit Hall at 147 Front Ave. in the center of town.

While the grant from the county has been finalized, Vorse said he was not aware if Big Idea funding is yet a sure thing, as the State Auditor’s Office has required municipalities participating in the program (Woodland, Kalama, Kelso, Longview, Castle Rock and Cowlitz County) to individually approve the transfer of their lodging tax dollars directly to the receiving entity, rather than to the Big Idea Board for later disbursement, in order to ensure fiscal responsibility.

Big Idea leader and County Commissioner Jim Misner said Monday Castle Rock is the only city still waiting to approve an amendment to their agreement with the Big Idea Board, stating he expects they will have discussed the matter during their City Council meeting Monday as Misner has responded to concerns raised by City Attorney Frank Randolph.

Misner said, once Castle Rock approves the amendment, their proposal for the use of Big Idea funds, which includes the Visitor’s Center and other projects totaling around $67,000, will be placed before the other entities for approval.

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