GREENFIELD — A facility behind the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts is being renovated to serve as the new headquarters for the county’s visitors bureau.
The Hancock County Visitors Bureau purchased a 3,200-square-foot building at 119 W. North St. in Greenfield last May; renovations at the site are expected to wrap up in April. Once completed, the building will include room for both a new welcome center for county visitors and a rehearsal space for groups performing at the theater, which is operated by the visitors bureau.
Currently the welcome center is confined to a 400-square-foot office on the second floor of the theater, which is difficult to access and is easily overlooked by passersby, said Dave Scott, visitors bureau director.
The new building, which most recently served as an electrician’s shop, cost $85,000, Scott said. Renovations are expected to run around $80,000, bringing the total for the whole project to about $165,000, all of which has been funded by the county’s innkeepers tax.
The innkeeper’s tax, generated by visitors to Hancock County hotels, serves as the visitors bureau’s primary source of funding, Scott said.
The new space will serve two purposes, Scott said. First, it will provide a large, easily accessible space to welcome visitors seeking recommendations for their visit to the area.
The new facility will also offer better accommodations for performers using the theater, serving as an additional dressing space and rehearsal room. The historic theater currently has two small dressing rooms off stage that can accommodate about 10 performers total, Scott said.
Many of the organizations who rent the space, which include dancing and acting groups with as many as 80 members, struggle to find enough space to prepare for their performances — especially if they have backdrops and set pieces, he said.
By offering the additional space, the theater could attract large groups that require extra space to prepare for shows, said Marilyn Levering, a member of the visitors bureau board of directors.
That, in turn, could draw visitors to the area, she said.
Work crews have stripped the interior of the building and are in the process of updating heating and cooling systems, Scott said.
Once finished, the building will be separated into two sections. The front half of the building will serve as the welcome center that will include pamphlets for local attractions, as well as several seating areas, he said.
The new building will be easier for visitors to recognize as a welcome center than the office tucked upstairs in the theater, Scott said.
“Hopefully, this will make it more convenient for people walking around who decide they want to stop by,” he said.
Once construction is complete, the visitors bureau will use the old office space on the second floor of the theater as a storage space, Scott said.
The back half of the building, which will be separated by a wall, will act as storage space for the visitors bureau and as a preparation space for performers. The room will also offer enough room for groups to build stage sets.
Dana Hart, director of Dance East Ballet Academy in Greenfield, has chosen the theater as the venue for several of her organization’s seasonal shows, which feature as many as 60 dancers, she said.
Managing all of the dancers, who range from 18 months to 17 years old, is always difficult, but the added space should help, she said.
“We need all the space we can get,” Hart said.