Online map launches program to show off historic treasures and draw tourists to city being revitalized
T he 3 1/2-mile walk through historic Quincy looks easy enough online: Assorted numbers dot a skewed line that travels up Franklin Street, over School Street, down a good chunk of Hancock Street, and beyond.
In reality, things are more complex. Despite helpful explanations in the Google Map program, the places themselves seem disconnected.
The distance between some markers is long, the navigation between others a challenge. Parking can be a drag, roadways difficult to cross, and historic places almost hidden among the bustle of the city center.
It’s something the city is already working on, and if anything, the new online, interactive map was merely the start of creating an enhanced tourist experience in Quincy.
“Right now, the city doesn’t offer a lot in terms of [promoting] tourism,’’ said Quincy planning director Dennis Harrington. “We as a Planning Department see the need to make sure the visitors who end up in Quincy Center have resources, such as maps and information on the sites here.’’
That was the impetus behind the online map, which was created by Planning Department employees. According to Harrington, the next step is to change the city itself.
“The National Parks visitor center was a temporary accommodation, which has been around for years,’’ he said. “We need a new visitor center, but [first] we’re going to move forward with a great piece of public space.’’
The city has begun planning the Adams Green - a sprawling park space in front of City Hall that will connect many of the historic places, creating walkways and park benches where pedestrians currently dodge traffic.
The $15 million to $16 million project, which is part of the sweeping revitalization of Quincy Center, will be funded through a variety of grants and will be the glue that binds many of these separate locales.
“The Adams Green will affect tourism greatly,’’ Harrington said. “We’re going to create a gateway from the T station to a marvelous place of open space, a focal point for downtown, and the space will be the entrance to the mercantile district; another side will be an entrance to the public library at Coddington Street.’’
There is also an effort to restore the sites around the city. The mayor’s office is working to spruce up the weathered exterior and interior of Old City Hall, and the city has hired an architectural firm to collect data and report on the condition of the Hancock Cemetery.
All this is being done as the cupola, weathervane, and bell of the Church of the Presidents across the street is being renovated, with the help of Community Preservation Act funds and money raised by the church.
The hope is not only to preserve history but bolster the city’s assets before the revitalization attracts even more visitors.
“The number [of visitors] the National Parks Service sees is currently several hundred thousand visitors a year, and we think the new Quincy Center will see well over a million people a year,’’ said mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker. “It’s a dramatic increase.’’
Walker said the potential for tourism in the city is “untapped’’ and that although numerous city departments do a great job protecting and showcasing historical homes and places, they need more of a framework in which to operate.
While the focus is on the future, the city’s tourism sector has already blossomed in many regards.
After David McCullough’s book “John Adams’’ hit bookstores in 2001, there was a surge in visitors to the historic South Shore city. That number picked up further after the HBO miniseries of the same name in 2008.
“The book spurred a conversation about Quincy’s place in history. . . . The things that happened in this community are the starting point for this country, and more and more people are recognizing that . . . and now people are coming to see it,’’ Walker said.
The merging of Discover Quincy and Quincy 2000 - two tourism- and community-focused organizations - under the umbrella of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce in 2010 also helped bolster the tourism sector.
According to Donna Mavromates, vice president and director of tourism for the chamber, the joint effort has allowed for more-focused goals. And, the combined organization has done a significant amount of international marketing.
Moving forward, however, the focus will be on local visitors.
“This year, I’m taking a more regional approach with our marketing plan - taking a look at the visitor that is coming into Boston and capitalizing on that . . . to let them know Quincy is only seven miles away, and there is a wealth of things to do here from a historical standpoint and recreational standpoint,’’ Mavromates said.
One of the chamber’s goals for 2012 will be to develop and design a Quincy visitor’s guide, a Quincy street map, and other associated marketing items.
The National Park Service is also pitching in. The organization is already flush with visitors who take summer tours; now it’s hoping to boost programs at the historic sites.
“You want the program to be dynamic - giving people opportunities to visit and explore what your story is. We do that through special programming and special events,’’ said Caroline Keinath, deputy superintendent for the Quincy sector of the National Park Service, which oversees the presidential birthplaces.
The Quincy Historical Society, too, is focusing on the community, offering lectures and school programs. The society also maintains the Quincy History Museum at the Adams Academy.
“We do publications, and we do [marketing] through our website. It’s our single biggest outreach to the area beyond the greater Boston area,’’ said Edward Fitzgerald, the society’s executive director. “That’s our primary outreach. We’re working towards enhancing that.’’
For all of the variety of places to see and experience in the city, Street-Works Development LLC partner and co-ounder Richard Heapes sees Quincy tourism as a “one-stop trip.’’
“Between the [presidential] birthplaces . . . I counted the possibility of over 20 historic places. One of the things that Quincy hasn’t done is take that asset and make it a thing you could do,’’ said Heapes, whose company is the lead developer of the downtown revitalization.
Heapes envisions markers between the historical sites directing visitors, as well as information kiosks offering interactive listening tools for tourists.
“There’s so many of those interesting things both historic and quasi-historic that you could create a Quincy history trail. There is a walking tour right now, but not many people know about it or do it.
But, “we can tie it all together and tie together the Adams story - plus we can make new ones. We have a healthy budget for art and public place making. We can tie in our historic assets to the downtown,’’ Heapes said.
It’s all an ongoing conversation Heapes said, but one that, along with new homes and businesses, will eventually transform the downtown.
“Not to say it’s our first priority, but [tourism] is a big priority and will be as we knock down things and . . . push things forward.’’