It is difficult to respond to an anonymous letter writer. You don’t know if the person is truly a concerned citizen or someone that is just trying to stir the pot. I will try to take this opportunity to explain the Western Legacy Center concept, as briefly as possible.
This project actually started as a rest area in Boulder after the State announced they were going to close the two rest areas at Jefferson City. The concept from the beginning has always been the same, get people to pull off the Interstate highways and get them into town, whether it be Boulder or Whitehall.
There was, in fact, a lot of support for the project in Boulder, both when the idea was a rest area and later when the idea arose about the Western Legacy Center. There also were a few vocal people that were opposed to it for various reasons. There would have been a huge upfront cost for anything to move forward in Boulder since everything would have had to have been built from the ground up. Most of the discussion about the project with the community came through the BTAC group that meets monthly. I have talked about the Western Legacy Center at nearly every meeting of the CTAC in Whitehall, as well as at several Town Council meetings. One of the very first things we did when we started to look at Whitehall was to get on the agenda and meet with the Board of Directors for the Jefferson Valley Museum. On December 1st, we held a well-advertised public meeting at Borden’s to discuss the Western Legacy Center and opportunities that might be available. We had over twenty people attend the meeting.
When we became aware that the old Forest Service building on the I-90 interchange was available, it was a no-brainer to move the project to Whitehall. It is an ideal site for this project. There are over 10,000 vehicles a day that drive past the Whitehall Interchange on I-90. Almost half that number come through Highways 55, 69, and 2. We need to do everything we can to pull as many of those folks off the highway as possible. The writer seems to think that no one will venture past the Center. I disagree. The Western Legacy Center will also be a Travel Information Center. Currently, there is somewhat of a block when folks come off the Interstate. They stop at the Town Pump to get fuel and maybe something to drink. A few might go to one of the fast-food restaurants nearby, but there is nobody trying to direct them downtown or to other locations in the area. Our goal from the outset has been to get people off the highway and get them into town. We will have displays and staff that will showcase locations and events in the area. For example, we plan to offer a lot of exposure to the Jefferson Valley Museum as another place to visit. Lewis and Clark Caverns and the Ringing Rocks are a couple of other examples of sites in the area where we can direct people. We will also be promoting the many motorized trails and non-motorized hiking and biking opportunities. The idea is to make Whitehall more than just a ten-minute stop on their way to or from the parks or other destinations. We want people to start planning to spend additional time here and in turn spend additional money in our community. Right now, there isn’t anyone at the interchange actively directing people downtown or to other sites. The Western Legacy Center will do that.
Will the Western Legacy Center compete against existing businesses? Probably to some degree, like the Town Pump and Thriftway or Napa and Ace Hardware. There will be some similar items, but they will also be different. We have made a commitment that our local entrepreneurs will be the priority, followed by folks in the area, then Montana made, and then the rest of the USA. We will not have any items made in China. That is somewhat difficult and will result in some items being higher priced, such as cups, caps, and clothing products. Just having the items printed, painted, or sewed in Montana is not going to be good enough. All our products will, at a minimum, be made in the USA.
Local businesses need to be thinking about how they can work with the Western Legacy Center to enhance their business, rather than trying to scuttle what could be a huge benefit to this area.
The Western Legacy Board meets the third Monday of each month at 1:00 in the Borden’s Conference Room. Anyone is welcome. If you have questions, please reach out to me at 406-439-2499, Tom Harrington at 406-287-3282, Pam Polachi at 508-517-7600, or Jay Linderman at 307-710-6193. It is always better to get the facts directly.
Jefferson County Commissioner