THE rescue helicopter hangar on the Bathurst Road could be a showcase centre to welcome visitors to Orange and take over the role of the existing Visitor Information Centre if the site was developed with a tourist park.
That’s the vision of resident Tony Callaghan, who has had a long-term involvement with the city’s visitors centre since his mother Betty started working at its first incarnation in a small office at the Hotel Canobolas.
The gateway to Orange was suggested as a location for the centre when it was relocated in 1979, but the council at the time settled on the civic square site instead.
Mr Callaghan says the centre has outgrown its building, and with the rescue helicopter service set to relocate to the airport he believes now is the time to develop the site for tourism to capitalise on its views of Mount Canobolas.
He suggests the centre could be given a catch name like ‘The VOICE’ standing for the Visit Orange Information Centre Experience and the plans to develop the surrounding land for a tourist park to attract grey nomads should be put back on the table.
Taste Orange executive officer Rhonda Sear shared Mr Callaghan’s sentiments in her submission to the recent tourism strategy where she pitched the gateway as a location for a tourist park and visitors centre.
Mayor John Davis said the hangar could be an option for a visitors’ centre but had not been taken into consideration.
He said plans to develop the site for a tourist park began before his time on council, but fell over when they did not attract enough interest from investors.
He believes the council will revisit a tourist park proposal in the next 12 months.
“The challenge is if it doesn’t happen in the next five years the baby boomers [caravanner] situation will hit a peak ... and that will decline,” he said.
“Do you invest $10 million in a caravan park when you’re looking at that kind of future?”
Mr Callaghan was critical of council’s recent 10-year tourism strategy, which he said was a re-hash of older projects and did not take the bypass road into account
“Whoever did it doesn’t have the history, it’s all dead ideas that have been pigeon holed,” he said.
He believes Orange has massive potential for attracting Asian visitors, especially Chinese, who are looking for natural attractions.
“With the airport extensions they could fly from polluted Beijing, to Darwin, then directly here,” he said.
“What they want is our clean air, not some commercialised Disneyland.”