A Tale of Two Visitor Centers

Includes Feb 2020 Photo EDIT / UPDATE

Yes, the internet has changed how many of us gather our travel intelligence — but this tale is about walking into one of those Welcome to our City buildings; filled with brochures and maps, factoids and gifts, and information dispensed by local human beings. In my opinion, there is nothing like a good visitor center.

Omaha, Nebraska and Natchez, Mississippi are river towns. They are similar and different. The population of Natchez is about 15,000. Omaha’s is approximately 395,000 greater.

First impressions can be affected by a simple greeting, an accessible location, what time of day or year you visit, how long you stay, etc. Imagine you are a visitor unfamiliar with an area and stopped by after exiting the main road. Let the impressions begin…

Natchez receives significant seasonal groups of visitors when riverboats drop tourists at their door. The dock is not far from their visitor center.

Omaha receives seasonal tourists too but spread out over annual events. Why not put your visitor center where those events are held or maybe near a gateway into town like the road from the airport or say closer to the river?  Somewhere, anywhere – more visible.

PARKING is any visitor center’s first – first impression. The Natchez Reception Center has a large lot with free spaces for cars, buses, and RVs.

In Omaha, there is minimal parking—on the street at meters with 15 minute parking signs. Remember, I’m a visitor and just pulled in. I haven’t looked at the website to see your note about “…parking along 10th Street.” I see meters and a sign which says I only have 15 minutes.

RESTROOMS are the most “visited” space at a visitor center. At Natchez, restrooms are conveniently located in the front of the building — separate to the actual visitor center. And incredibly – OPEN 24 hours!

HISTORY is another big attraction to any city. Natchez had 120 years or so start on Omaha and was at the intersection of many historical events. Omaha has history too. Native Americans, pioneers, railroads, jazz, and as a witness to Lewis & Clark. Yes, there are awesome history museums in Omaha – and Nebraska – but tease me about them at your visitor center (alternatively to but augmented by the brochures).

At the Natchez Reception Center, you are forced to walk through rich, historical exhibits – to get to their Gift Shop! The wall of windows is wonderful, offering natural light in and a panoramic view of the river valley out.

At Natchez I was offered free coffee as I chatted with a staff member and complimented her on the visitor center. I work in the film industry and ask a question at every visitor center. “Can you tell me if any movies have been shot here?” Without hesitation, she presented a list. She rattled off recent projects, told me about stars and crew who stayed in town, and pointed out that parts of the series True Blood were shot at an antebellum home nearby. She then segued to how many antebellum homes and B & Bs are there. “Most do tours. Here’s that list.”

Yes, I was impressed by my short visit to the Natchez Reception Center but couldn’t help thinking about the similarities to Omaha – because I live in Omaha. I am one of those locals who utilize the visitor center for family visiting and business associates on their way here. In the past I’ve gathered gift bags for arriving visitors and purchased Omaha gifts to give to my family on the east coast. I worked on the movie Up in the Air and was close to the decision to NOT SHOOT George Clooney at the Omaha Visitors Center. It almost happened.

I returned to Omaha eager to revisit the Omaha Visitors Center. A friend who works for the city had told me, “The administration offices of tourism moved but the visitors center is still open.” Oh. I was more excited. Maybe changes are coming. Is something new happening?

After I paid for parking, I was met by a sign directing me around the corner. I peeked through the window and the front space was – vacant?

Once inside, I was shocked. They’ve made it smaller! By the way – there is no gift shop in the Omaha Visitors Center. The trinkets were removed a few years ago, about the same time the cafe went away.

I was greeted by a cordial volunteer and announced myself as a local but curious about new visitor offerings. I also wanted to learn what the heck was going on with the construction – but I needed to use the restroom. I knew where it is but visitors have to ask, “Restroom?” I was shocked again. Now you need the restroom door to be unlocked by a volunteer with the key! A tad uncomfortable, I was guided by the gentleman far enough that he turned on the Men’s room light. I wondered if a female volunteer is assigned as a Ladies room guide.  Sigh.

I gathered a few brochures and left. Seeing the new Omaha Visitors Center was disheartening, especially after visiting Natchez’s weeks prior.

Omaha is a growing city, often found on those positive lists— Best City for this and Most Popular for that… It certainly feels like Omaha wants to be bigger and attract more visitors. There’s a new grand-scale development project in progress, encompassing two parks and areas along the river. The initial budget is 290 million dollars. Below is an updated photo of the shot above – from November 2019.

Near here, another 100 million is slated for the initial phase of a Conagra campus repurpose. I’m just asking the question: Why not have a bigger, better, more visible Visitor Center — located within these new projects?

I love a good visitor center—and I love my city. I simply want Omaha to have the best one.

Traveling, hosting, or planning a visit is indeed subjective but consider a stop at a local visitor center on your next journey. A good one is friendly, informative, and memorable. Talk to the locals, learn their history, and take their recommendations.

Support your local visitor center too.  Come Visit Omaha   Go Visit Natchez

Thank you for visiting.

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UPDATE to Omaha Visitor Center as of 2/2020   RE: First Impressions. A new tenant has taken over the storefront part of the building. The good news is this is not the entrance to the visitor center… but that’s the only good news. Sigh.

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I was in Natchez, MS for about two hours in November 2018. Forty minutes were spent at the Visitor Reception Center.

I revisited the Omaha Visitors Center in December 2018  and in January 2019.

The photos of Omaha parks above will become obsolete when construction is complete.

Words and photos copyrighted Jamie Vesay. Permission to reprint in online publications is required. Please ask.

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Jamie Vesay Work and Wanderings 2017

A great benefit of my job is to be working during sunrise and sunset. It’s a best-time to snap a photograph thing. Yes, I have been paid to watch the sun rise and set. The photo above is from mid summer 2017 while LOCATION SCOUTING large fields of corn for a commercial.

Turns out – 2017 ended up being much about chasing the sun.

In February and March I was my own client. WRITING, scouting, and making more connections for my project Fauna’s Thread. I am parallel-writing (a word I made up) a BOOK and SCREENPLAY (a process I do NOT recommend). The status of the project is in DEVELOPMENT but it’s awesome to see the cranes each year. The photo below is from a blind on the river—at sunset.

July was busy with more scouting the sun. A good one was for FX company Ring of Fire. ROF needed low-light landscapes for a Lyrica commercial. All action was shot months prior – elsewhere. I was the Scout / Production Manager. The crew was small and the shoot was positive. New professional relationships established. Great pros in John and Jerry.

Chasing the sun became literal with a career highlight in August; experiencing and working during the ECLIPSE. It was truly a remarkable and humbling event. I worked on a project for Volvo as a LOCATION SCOUT to start, then as a Production Assistant for the shoot. We shot 360 VR LIVE as Volvo sponsored CNN’s Eclipse coverage.

We were in Beatrice, Nebraska – one of four live set-ups under the path of totality. See it all via Facebook. Our clip is at about 52:00 (or – 44:00). Pan around – especially during totality; the only time you’ll ever see (what looks like) sunset all around you. A cool bonus was meeting writer Andy Weir (below w/me). Fancy eclipse glasses included.

The road trip of the year was a ride and relish through upper central/northwest/western NEBRASKA. Despite the fact that everywhere I go I am #alwayslocationscouting – this trip was a pleasure cruise with my better-half Sue

Hiding right under my big nose were floats trips on lazy rivers, lodging in a cowboy camp and an Asian vibe motel, crash courses in paleontology + geology + more unreported history of Native Americans getting the shaft. This trip was educational and inspirational.

In December I was in the polar opposite of wide-open landscapes; Los Angeles.

I was there reconnecting with colleagues and unofficially pimping the movie Downsizing, a movie I worked on with Director and friend Alexander Payne.

It was wonderful to see the movie at Paramount Pictures theater with many Nebraskans and others with connections to AP. 

2018 will bring new work and wanderings. Have projects on your plate? Reach out. Visit NebraskaLocation too.

Cheers, to your work and wanderings.

2017 and My Projects leaving the Shelf

Updated 2/28/22
Getting into my too many long-on-the shelf  projects…
I’m only ten years or so behind, so I figure I have to average about three per year for the next ten.

Fauna’s Thread PUBLISHED!        Fauna’s Thread, available on Amazon as Paperback and Kindle.

For Agent Representation and / or interest in movie rights, visit Fauna’s Thread.

For fun and following, pop on over to the website or Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

To my family and friends – for the support and inspiration – THANK YOU.