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Portage tourism panel votes to purchase canoe attractions
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Portage tourism panel votes to purchase canoe attractions

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Members of the Portage Tourism Promotion Commission might not have an exact number, but all four agreed Tuesday to purchase fiberglass canoes for placement around the city.

Commission member Marianne Hanson, also the executive director of the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce, said the half canoes reaching 8 feet and spanning about 3 feet wide will be placed throughout the city for visitors and residents alike to take photographs. They will be able to pose as if they are portaging the canoes as the traders, indigenous peoples and explorers did in the community’s early history.

The canoe makers from FAST Corporation of Sparta could have them delivered to the city by April 1, Hanson said.

The meeting Tuesday elicited discussion over whether the city had enough storage to house the canoes. Portage Mayor Rick Dodd plans to have four placed along the newly updated canal once the project is completed in 2021. Dodd said the city would be able to house them until they are installed along with historical information signs.

Commission member Dennis Nachreiner said he does not oppose the idea, but has concerns over whether the plans to gain sponsorship from locals businesses and entities would be realized.

“We need to have all of our ducks in a row before we go and invest this kind of money on these,” Nachreiner said. “I don’t want you to think I’m against this, because I’m not.”

There should be people “signing on the dotted lines” before ordering fixtures without sponsorship interest, he added. Hanson said there haven’t been any formal agreements, but in talking with business owners there has been positive feedback from multiple people.

Commission members agreed to budget about $60,000 for the structures, which are roughly $3,300 per piece plus the cost of installation. The goal going into the meeting was to purchase six, though discussion led to possibly buying 10. Members didn’t set a number, but instead capped the amount to be spent. A discount will be applied based on the number of canoes purchased, Hanson said.

“I don’t think we have to worry that we won’t have a place for them,” Hanson said. “I think that will happen. It’s a matter of, do we want to move forward and actually do the project now so we can have it launched this summer or are we going to wait? We’ve been discussing it for how many months? I think we need to make a decision.”

Plans include recruiting local artists to paint the canoes based on a set of guidelines crafted by the commission, Hanson added. Artists will have to submit sketches before they will be allowed to work on them.

Corporate or nonprofit sponsorship will cost $2,500 for two years. Members agreed the focal points throughout the city will be a boost to local tourism. Carol LaVigne suggested ensuring at least one is placed on the north side of the city to connect visitors to the commercial district as well as the downtown area.

“I’m thinking because we really want to promote it with a scavenger hunt type of event,” LaVigne said. “I’m really thinking I would really like to have one on the north side of town.”

Canoes not sponsored by the city should be installed by summer. The Canal walk canoes would likely feature signs with information about the area, Dodd said.

Members agreed Hanson would contact FAST Corp., the company making the canoes, for pricing information for six to 10 canoes. The capped expense amount will limit how many they can purchase. Nachreiner voted in favor of the spending after being told the city has storage space and Hanson reassured him there are people looking to sponsor individual canoes. All four members voted unanimously for up to $60,000 to be spent on the canoes.

FAST Fiberglass was founded in the 1970s and has installed fiberglass animals and roadside attractions since then under different names. According to its website, the company first created a fiberglass 145-foot musky that was installed in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward.

“The next time you see a life-size elephant at a gas station, 8-foot-high cheese mouse at the store, 6- foot frog water slide, 20-foot-high flamingo, or 3-story eyeball you can bet the piece originated” at FAST Fiberglass, boasts the company website.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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